Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia caused a bit of an uproar at a hearing yesterday. As Brian Stelter reported at his New York Times blog (11/17/10), Rockefeller mused:
There's a little bug inside of me which wants to get the FCC to say to Fox and to MSNBC, "Out. Off. End. Goodbye." It would be a big favor to political discourse, to our ability to do our work here in Congress and to the American people, to be able to talk with each other and have some faith in their government and, more importantly, in their future.
Rockefeller should tell that "little bug" to keep quiet, for a number of reasons. For starters, the FCC can't–and obviously shouldn't–be in the business of killing cable channels that lawmakers find objectionable.
Rockefeller's remarks did not escape notice; "SHOCK VIDEO," says a link at the Drudge Report. And Keith Olbermann pointed out last night that Rockefeller has told him that he's a fan of the show–presumably he knows that Olbermann's show is on MSNBC, right?
But Rockefeller did make one point that's worth defending–that the rise in cable TV rates is in part due to the fact that subscribers are forced to pay for channels we don't watch (most of the channels you get with your cable package), or might find objectionable (Fox News, to pick an example at random). As Stelter noted:
Beyond the news media, Mr. Rockefeller also questioned why consumers have to buy bundles of channels, rather than ordering the channels they want and nothing else.
This is a good point, though there's no need to exclude the "news" channels from consideration. As we noted here recently, Fox boss Rupert Murdoch bragged that he could basically name his price with cable operators: "Cancel us, you might get your house burnt down" was how he described his negotiating strategy. In most places, viewers pay far more for Fox News than MSNBC. In an era of seemingly endless digital media possibilities, why are TV viewers forced to send millions of dollars to pay Sean Hannity's salary?