Chapter 2 Opening
In 1983, the men and women who headed the 50 mass media corporations that dominated American audiences could have fit comfortably in a modest hotel ballroom. The people heading the 20 dominant newspaper chains probably would form one conversational cluster to complain about newsprint prices; 20 magazine moguls in a different circle denounce postal rates; the broadcast network people in another corner, not being in the newspaper or magazine business, exchange indignation about government radio and television regulations; the book people compete in outrage over greed of writers’ agents; and movie people gossip about sexual achievements of their stars.
By 2003, five men controlled all these old media once run by the 50 corporations of 20 years earlier. These five, owners of additional digital corporations, could fit in a generous phone booth. Granted, it would be a tight fit and it would be filled with some tensions.
In this imaginary phone booth would be Richard Parsons, chairman and CEO of AOL Time Warner, who would be cautious about his job, because he was now chief of the world’s largest media firm only because his former co-chiefs, Steve Case and Carl Levin, had been dethroned. Michael Eisner, chief of Disney, would demand his own foot space the way he did after he and his old friend, Michael Ovitz, engineered capture of the vast Mickey Mouse empire by promising co-leadership, whereupon Eisner dumped his old friend on the principle of One Empire, One Emperor. The notoriously irascible Sumner Redstone, ruler of Viacom, formerly CBS, would be all elbows because News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch had bought Hughes Electronics’ satellite-transmitted DirecTV that gives Murdoch financial and technical power that surpasses Viacom. Finally, the fifth occupant would be Reinhard Mohn, patriarch of the 168-year-old German firm, Bertelsmann, as aloof as one can be in a crowded phone booth because he is head of, among other things, the world’s largest publisher of English-language books, but not long before had been caught lying about his firm’s Nazi-era history.
Admittedly, it may be difficult to imagine five of the world’s most influential executives standing in one phone booth, an act usually reserved for college students competing for a place in the Guinness Book of World Records (which says the record is 25 young men at St. Mary’s College, in Moraga, California). It takes a stretch of imagination to think of five corporate executives doing the same thing. On the other hand, it would have been difficult to imagine in 1983 that the corporations that owned all the country’s dominant mass media would, in less than 20 years, shrink from 50 separate companies