And so, early in the year 2000, it came to pass that visions of a seamless media web enraptured the keepers of pecuniary faith as never before. A grand new structure, AOL-Time-Warner, emerged while a few men proclaimed themselves trustees of a holy endeavor. They told the people about a wondrous New Media world to come.
Lo, they explained, changes of celestial magnitude were not far off. A miraculous future, swiftly approaching, would bring cornucopias of bandwidth and market share. A pair of prominent clerics named Steve Case and Gerald Levin gained ascendancy. Under bright lights, how majestic they looked!
And how they could preach! Announcing unification, they seemed to make the media world stand still. Reporters and editors gasped. Some were fearful, their smiles of fascination tight. Others bowed and scraped without hesitation.
In keeping with the dominant creeds of the era, believers in the divine right of capital asserted that separation of corporate church and state was an anachronism. A torch had been passed to a new veneration. Media monarchs would rule with unabashed fervor, while taking care to help regulate mere governments.
The power of the new theocracy promised to be unparalleled. On January 2, 2000, just one week before the portentous announcement, the chief prelate of Time-Warner alluded to transcendent horizons. Global media "will be and is fast becoming the predominant business of the 21st century," Levin said on CNN, "and we're in a new economic age, and what may happen, assuming that's true, is it's more important than government. It's more important than educational institutions and non-profits."
He went on: "So what's going to be necessary is that we're going to need to have these corporations redefined as instruments of public service because they have the resources, they have the reach, they have the skill base-and maybe there's a new generation coming up that wants to achieve meaning in that context and have an impact, and that may be a more efficient way to deal with society's problems than bureaucratic governments."
The next sentence from the monied prince underscored the sovereign right of cash: "It's going to be forced anyhow because when you have a system that is instantly available everywhere in the world immediately, then the old-fashioned regulatory system has to give way."
To discuss an imposed progression of events as some kind of natural occurrence was a convenient form of mysticism-long popular among the corporately pious, who were often eager to wear mantles of royalty and divinity. Tacit beliefs deemed the accumulation of wealth to be redemptive. Inside many temples, monetary standards gauged worth.
A little more than half a century earlier, Aldous Huxley had predicted: "The most important Manhattan Projects of the future will be vast government-sponsored inquires into... the problem of making people love their servitude." To a lot of ears, that sounded like quite an exaggeration.
"There is, of course, no reason why the new totalitarianisms should resemble the old," Huxley foresaw. He observed that "in an age of advanced technology, inefficiency is the sin against the Holy Ghost. A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors and schoolteachers. But their methods are still crude and unscientific." That was in 1946.
In 2000, there wasn't much crude about the methods of Steve Case, Gerald Levin and others at the top of large corporate denominations, heralding joy to the world via a seamless web of media. Two days after disclosure of plans for unification, Case assured a national PBS television audience: "Nobody's going to control anything." Seated next to him, Levin declared: "This company is going to operate in the public interest."
Such pledges, invariably uttered in benevolent tones, were the classic vows of scamsters claiming to have the most significant gods on their side. In this way a hallowed duo, Case and Levin, moved ahead to gain more billions for themselves and maximum profits for some other incredibly wealthy people. By happy coincidence, they insisted, the media course that would make them richest was the same one that held the most fulfilling promise for everyone on the planet.
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A transcript with audio of Norman Solomon appearing on a panel on the "News Hour With Jim Lehrer," discussing the AOL Time-Warner merger, is posted on the PBS website at: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business/jan june00/aol_01-10.html
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Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is The Habits of Highly-Deceptive Media.