The week before this 2002 episode of NOW With Bill Moyers aired, a Senate sub-committee met for hearings on a media merger that would create the biggest cable company in America. Bill considers how mergers contribute to skyrocketing cable TV bills, and leads to a situation where just four giant corporations control the music on the airwaves in all the major metropolitan areas. Radio stations in your hometown that you think are live – and local – aren’t.
MOYERS: Welcome to NOW.
We begin with the shrinking world of the mass media. Twenty years ago, there were 50 owners of America’s major media outlets. Now there are five.
How a handful of companies came to exercise such control over the media is one of the astonishing stories of our time. And one of the least reported by the mega-media companies affected.
Just this week, a Senate subcommittee met for hearings on yet another big media merger, one that would create the biggest cable company in America.
NOW’S producer Bryan Myers found that many people are beginning to question the benefits of such a merger.
BILL MOYERS: At a popular New York store the other day, we asked some shoppers for their opinions about cable television. Uncharacteristic for New Yorkers, their responses were unanimous.
SHOPPER 1: For me, it just isn’t really worth shelling out 40 or 50 dollars a month.
SHOPPER 2: I think it’s expensive for what I’m getting, I really do.
SHOPPER 3: If it was more choices, maybe the prices would be lower.
MOYERS: Consumers are complaining loudly and often about cable TV these days. The Federal Communications Commission says cable prices increased 7.5% last year, far faster than the rate of inflation at 2.7%. And that’s been the trend for years. Gene Kimmelman runs the Washington office of Consumer’s Union.
GENE KIMMELMAN, CONSUMER’S UNION: Since 1996 rates have shot up about 43%. That’s almost three times faster than inflation.
MOYERS: Consumer advocates fear it’s going to get worse, especially with the impending merger of cable giants AT&T Broadband and the Comcast Corporation.
SENATE HEARING (FROM TAPE): This committee will be in order…
MOYERS: In a Senate hearing this week, that merger came under Congressional scrutiny. Democrats and Republicans alike were skeptical.
SENATOR HERB KOHL (D-WI): We have been asking ourselves over and over again, how is this good for consumers?
SENATOR MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): This trend towards further media consolidation is troubling.
KIMMELMAN: We’ve never seen a cable merger where rates have gone down. As a matter of fact, the larger the cable company becomes, the government data show that the higher the rates go.
MOYERS: AT&T Broadband is already the largest cable company in America. Comcast is now number three. Their marriage would result in the biggest cable company ever, with local systems in 17 of America’s 20 biggest cities, and a presence in 41 states.
KIMMELMAN: You get a company with ownership and influence over cable systems serving more than 30 million households in this country now this is more than 40 percent of the entire cable market.
MOYERS: The FCC’s own numbers show that cable competition is already scarce. There are over 10,000 cable markets in America, but in only 368 of them does the cable operator face what the FCC calls an “effective competitor.” In other words, in over 9600 markets, consumers are basically at the mercy of monopolies.
Public interest advocates say cable mergers not only drive up prices for consumers, they dry up the flow of ideas.
ANDREW JAY SCHWARTZMAN, MEDIA ACCESS PROJECT: The proposed merger threatens the diversity of the marketplace of ideas.
MOYERS: Andrew Jay Schwartzman runs the Media Access Project, a First Amendment watchdog.
SCHWARTZMAN: Any company which shares a large portion of the ownership of mass media gains tremendous power over advertisers, over the video programming markets and over competition with other telecommunications providers.
MOYERS: As cable companies grow larger, Schwartzman says, they begin to restrict access to their systems, demanding exorbitant payments or restrictive conditions to carry programming. One example: when NBC wanted to put its channel “CNBC” on cable, they had to sign an agreement with cable companies that it wouldn’t be a general news service like CNN. Why? Because CNN is owned by a big cable company that didn’t want the competition.
SCHWARTZMAN: The proposed merger will reduce the number of companies that can produce video programming, and it will also place much greater editorial control in the hands of one company. This means that there will be fewer editorial voices. The civic discourse of our nation will be adversely affected.
KIMMELMAN: There is no government oversight of what is offered to the consumer over the cable system. It’s all up to the cable company.
MOYERS: Then there’s the possibility of restrictions on Internet access. In time, cable lines are expected to become the preferred means of connecting to the Internet. But cable companies have the power to pick and choose what sites you can access.
KIMMELMAN: In the same way the cable company controls what channels the consumer receives, in the Internet world, the cable company is in a position to package programming, the high speed connection, the content you can get off the high speed connection and give preferential deals to their own affiliates or anyone they wanna cut a deal with.
MOYERS: At this week’s Senate hearing, the heads of AT&T Broadband and Comcast said not to worry; they are committed to fair pricing and open access. But, say the critics, they’ve heard it before.
SCHWARTZMAN: Absence of competition brings monopoly power and the kind of cable television service we’ve all become used to. “If you don’t like it, forget it. Because we’re the cable company!”
MOYERS: P.S.: In the neighborhood where we live, our cable bill has gone up by more than a third in the last five years for the very same service.
It’s not only customers who get the short end of the stick from these megamedia conglomerates.
Local programming like news and community affairs, often gets reduced or eliminated all together.
Let’s take the case of radio in America. In just five years, four giant corporations have come to control the music we hear on our airwaves in all the major metropolitan areas.
NOW’S Brenda Breslauer and NPR’s Rick Karr report.
RICK KARR: After twenty-six years behind a microphone Becky Wight has arrived in the future of radio. Start with her job title, for instance.
BECKY WIGHT, DJ: Well they don’t call them deejays anymore. They call them air personalities.
KARR: Becky and her colleagues don’t pick the music they play anymore. These days, it’s all done by consultants, committees … and computers.
WIGHT: Radio doesn’t play records anymore. Radio doesn’t even play CDs anymore. Radio stations run generally individual files in a computer for each song.
KARR: Today’s technology also lets Becky create an illusion — that she’s not in her Dallas studio but rather that she’s actually local in Topeka; Omaha; Cleveland; Elkhart, Indiana; Rochester, New York; Montgomery, Alabama; and Hilo, Hawaii. There and in a couple dozen other cities across the country listeners are supposed to think she’s right in the neighborhood.
The technology’s called voice tracking. It lets Becky record her voice then mix it in with music, commercials and jingles.
WIGHT: What I’m going to do is put the song over where my breath mark was, so I’ll stop talking, song will start while I’m breathing and then the rest of it will play.
It gives the local stations the opportunity to literally turn the computer on and lock the front door and go home for a weekend.
KARR: This is the future of radio: quirky, live, and local D-Js giving way to stations on autopilot and “air personalities” turning out “virtual” programs on an assembly line. Critics say a medium that used to operate in the public interest is becoming bland and even misleading.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 ended more than sixty years of limits on how many radio stations one company could own. It used to be four stations in a market; now it’s eight. It used to be that a company could own a total of no more than forty; now there’s no limit. The result: a handful of large firms have been able to buy up hundreds of local stations. Critics say that while many listeners may not have noticed, deregulation means they’re getting less music less news and less local flavor.
In Denver, for instance, four companies now control nearly three quarters of the radio audience. Some of those Denver stations still make radio the old-fashioned way:
They are, to use the industry jargon, “live and local”. That means, in effect, that there’re real DJs spinning real records on the air and taking real calls from listeners.
Cat Collins is program director at a pop and hip-hop station. He says “live and local” simply makes for better radio.
CAT COLLINS: So that when you listen to my station, KS 107.5 from 6 am to midnight, you hear somebody that’s in the studio, playing records at that exact moment, taking phone calls from my audience.
KARR: And they’re actually in Denver?
COLLINS: Yeah, they’re actually in Denver. What a concept, you know?
KARR: But Collins says consolidation is killing off the live, local DJ and giving big radio chains an incentive to save money with voice tracking and similar technology.
COLLINS: I think that deregulation means less choice for the consumer and I think it means more commercials which they don’t like, I think it means less local personalities on the air.
KARR: Cat Collins admits that the company that owns his station — Jefferson Pilot Communications — uses some voice tracking at its seventeen stations. Even he runs his overnight show from a computer. But he’s proud that for the most part, the station’s live and local.
At the number one radio company across town it seems there’s a lot less live and local programming.
SARAH DALSIMER: I’m calling KBCO, 97.3, alternative rock.
KARR: Clear Channel Worldwide owns eight stations in Denver. NOW’s Sarah Dalsimer called request lines at five of the company’s pop and rock stations there.
DALSIMER: KISS-FM, 95.7, KTCL, KBPI, KRFX, 103.5.
She called the Top Forty station, the Alternative Rock station, and the Hard Rock station. She never got through to a real human being.
Clear Channel is by far the largest radio company in the nation. The firm got its start in 1972, with one station in San Antonio, Texas. By the mid nineties, it’d grown to forty-three stations. But after Washington relaxed ownership limits in 1996, it grew to more than twelve hundred stations. Its closest competitor owns fewer than two hundred.
You can listen to Clear Channel from coast to coast: in Los Angeles …in New York City …and in Denver. In all fifty states, in fact.
Forty-seven of Clear Channel’s stations are known as “KISS FM”. It’s part of the company’s vision of creating a national radio franchise.
Clear Channel spends a lot of money promoting the KISS FM brand identity. That’s because the company sees it as being akin to say, McDonalds. Anywhere you go in the country, you know what to expect on a McDonalds menu. Likewise, in 47 cities where Clear Channel owns stations, you know what to expect from KISS FM.
That’s part of the business appeal of consolidation. Advertisers can buy radio ads in bulk.
Radio is only one part of the Clear Channel conglomerate. While you may not have noticed the name, it’s all over the place: The company owns billboards and other outdoor advertising, television stations, a concert promotion firm — it’s even into Broadway shows. It’s co-producer of the hit musical THE PRODUCERS.
This is what a business school prof might call “synergy”: Clear Channel can use its taxi-top ads to promote its Broadway shows and its billboards to promote its radio stations.
Just how big is Clear Channel? Well here in Denver, if you want to listen to pop and rock, there’s 93.3—Clear Channel; KISS FM—Clear Channel, too; 97.3—Clear Channel; classic rock from the Fox, another Clear Channel station; and 106.7—Clear Channel.
Five stations — that’s most of the pop and rock on the air. And that is a problem, according to Jesse Morreale: He’s a concert promoter in Denver. So is Clear Channel.
JESSE MORREALE, CONCERT PROMOTER: They’re the biggest radio broadcaster in the country by far. They’re the biggest concert promoter in the country by far. They did 70 percent of ticket sales last year.
Two years ago, Clear Channel bought the nation’s largest concert and event promoter. Since then, Morreale alleges, Clear Channel’s been trying to put him out of business.
MORREALE: This is a microcosm of what’s happening around the country.
They control the programming for all the radio stations that any of the people in this demographic might listen to.
And it’s not unbiased information that is being given out – the songs aren’t being played because they’re the best songs. The concerts aren’t being talked about because they’re the best or most important concerts.
It’s all based on this financial interest that this company has in the concerts that they are promoting.
KARR: Morreale’s firm — Nobody In Particular Presents — sued Clear Channel last year. The suit alleges that in Denver, “synergy” really means monopoly; it charges Clear Channel with “unlawful, anticompetitive and predatory” practices.
According to the suit, Clear Channel refuses to play certain acts’ music on its radio stations unless those musicians book concerts with Clear Channel.
MORREALE: Play for our concert promoter or you won’t get airplay.
KARR: Clear Channel says, “Hey, this is the way the industry is changed now. We’re just better business people than you are. Sorry, small concert promotion firm. You’re time is over.”
MORREALE: I say that the way that they are operating these businesses together is anti-competitive.
KARR: Morreale says he’s stuck. Clear Channel won’t promote his shows and he can’t afford to buy a radio station on his own.
Clear Channel officials deny the charges in Morreale’s suit but they declined our interview requests. Instead, they sent us this statement, quote: — “Clear Channel’s sheer size isn’t what makes us a formidable competitor. It’s our excellence in understanding the needs and wants of consumers …. In order to do so, we compete hard but fairly and within the rules.”
In the past, the head of the company’s radio division, Randy Michaels, has been more outspoken — even flamboyant: He showed up at a 1999 broadcasters’ conference in the fashion of an ancient Egyptian noble. His entrance was a gag, but his message was serious:
RANDY MICHAELS (TAPE FROM 1999 CONFERENCE): My personal opinion is that this consolidation, the collision of deregulation and technology is going to create the most powerful and the most positive change for radio.
KARR: Michaels told his audience that anybody in the industry who wasn’t headed into the future of radio was gonna have a hard time staying in business.
MICHAELS (FROM TAPE): People are walking around saying, “Grrr. Bull*&@* satellite disk jockeys. Grrr. Virtual radio. Grrr. Bull*&^@, change. Bull (*&%@, owning 600 station ownership. Hey guys! WAL*MART IS OPEN! You can’t do anything about it! I can’t do anything about it!
KARR: Like Wal-Mart, Michaels said, big radio chains are good for almost everyone.
MICHAELS: There is more money in the economy because we’ve created lower costs to the consumer and at the end of the day the standard of living in this country is rising in direct proportion to the efficiencies we are creating.
BARRY FEY, ROCK PROMOTER: When Congress deregulated the radio business, I’m sure they didn’t have this in mind. This is just deregulation on steroids. It’s just gotten crazy.
KARR: Barry Fey helped create the rock touring business; he’s been promoting shows in Denver since the mid-sixties. Fey says Clear Channel has actually increased prices for consumers. He believes the company is using its deep pockets to outbid competitors — like him and Jesse Morreale — and try to price them out of the concert business.
FEY: You’re the little guy in the poker game. You got a limit. Some guy keeps on raising. And he has no hand. Pretty soon, you got to drop out, because you don’t have any money left.
KARR: Fey says that means consumers pay more for tickets. For instance, he says he bid against Clear Channel for an upcoming concert by singer and guitarist Bonnie Raitt.
FEY: We sent in our offer, for Bonnie Raitt $100,000. That’s what the agent asked for. Our ticket price was $30.
KARR: According to Fey, Clear Channel countered with an offer of a quarter million dollars.
FEY: That extra $150,000 is gonna be borne by 9000 people paying $15 extra.
KARR: Bottom line here is Clear Channel came in, outbid you, and consumers pay 50% more for the tickets?
FEY: That’s correct. Correct.
KARR: Were consumers willing to pay that much?
FEY: Well they don’t know they’re paying 50% more, they don’t know I was going to charge them thirty and they’re going to have to pay forty-five.
KARR: Barry Fey says of course Clear Channel has the right to outbid him. And of course Bonnie Raitt was right to take the higher offer. But a windfall for the artist, he says, is bad for consumers. Tickets went on sale two weeks ago and Barry Fey’s prediction was right on the money.
KARR: If consumers are willing to pay that much, who’s hurt?
FEY: The consumer. There’s not an infinite amount of money. Clear Channel makes you believe there is, but there’s not. People budget, and perhaps they would have bought two shows at thirty each, but now they’re only gonna buy one at forty-five.
KARR: The dispute in Denver isn’t the first time Clear Channel’s found itself under legal scrutiny: Two years ago, Florida’s attorney general accused a Clear Channel station of deceiving the public during an on-air contest:
DJ: Be the 25th caller right now and win an instant 10 grand — it’s easy….
KARR: But it wasn’t as easy as listeners may’ve assumed: The station never mentioned that the contest was running nationwide….
WINNER: Oh my God, Thank you.
KARR: So listeners had no way of knowing that their odds of winning were a whole lot smaller. Clear Channel didn’t admit to any wrongdoing but it settled the matter by contributing eighty thousand dollars to Florida’s Consumer Frauds Trust Fund.
Meanwhile in Waco, Texas Clear Channel’s been accused of effectively controlling more stations than Federal law allows.
GARY MOSS, RADIO STATION OWNER: My argument is that they are illegally running a station, and by them doing this, they have an unfair advantage in Waco, Texas against the other independent guys in the market.
KARR: Gary Moss owns two of the thirteen commercial radio stations in Waco; Clear Channel owns the top four. Earlier this year, Moss filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission alleging that Clear Channel illegally runs a fifth station in violation of federal antitrust rules.
Two years ago the Justice Department ordered Clear Channel to sell off that fifth station because the company controlled too much of the market. In his petition Moss alleged that while on paper Clear Channel sold the station to a firm called Chase Radio in reality nothing changed: He says the station’s still in this building, along with the rest of Clear Channel’s and that it’s still run by Clear Channel.
MOSS: Well, I’m saying that Chase Radio, as well as some other corporations were put together, to get Clear Channel obvious penetration in markets, and fly under the radar of the Justice Department. This was a tactic to get around the laws. So that they can control markets.
KARR: Moss says Clear Channel’s size gives the company an unfair advantage.
MOSS: I am locked out of media buys, by national advertisers. Because Clear Channel can cluster their stations together and say look, we’ve got, you know, 65 share in the market. Or 70 share in the market. Or 80 percent share in the market. And you don’t even go shop anywhere else.
KARR: And according to Moss, Clear Channel’s dominance in the Waco market has had a big effect on listeners’ access to local news and public affairs.
MOSS: Ever since Clear Channel came into the market everybody’s staffs have dwindled down. Today, we no longer can support a news staff. We don’t have anybody on the street covering any of these events. City Council meetings, school board meetings … election returns. Things of that nature. Nor does Clear Channel. I think that hurts the public.
KARR: Clear Channel says its arrangement with Chase Radio is legal. A spokesperson told us the company works within the rules of the system and does what’s best for its advertisers, listeners and shareholders.
But Representative Howard Berman of California has misgivings: In January he called for an investigation of Clear Channel. Berman wrote that he was concerned that the firm was using “shell companies” to flout radio ownership limits in Waco and eight other cities.
Legal and regulatory questions aside what’s the impact of all this deregulation on our culture?
T-BONE BURNETT: Radio in the last ten or twenty years certainly hasn’t been a friend of music. It hasn’t been helping to spread or build community or any of the things that we thought it did in the past.
BONNIE RAITT (AT THE GRAMMY AWARDS): The Grammy for Producer of the Year was presented to T Bone Burnett.
KARR: T Bone Burnett may be the hottest record producer in the world right now — no thanks to radio:
Burnett put together the rootsy, even old-fashioned music on the soundtrack to the film O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU… which won five Grammy Awards this year. He says the record’s sold five million copies because the film was a great ad for the music. None of the credit goes to radio.
KARR: Why didn’t it get played on the radio? I mean why didn’t the radio stations play it?
BURNETT: Well, I mean, the reality is it didn’t test well.
KARR: The Future of Radio is tested on consumers like any other product — say, toothpaste or soft drinks. Burnett says marketing consultants play snippets of songs for potential listeners in focus groups. They’re looking for music that won’t prompt anyone to change the station and miss an ad. Music that’s safe. And once they’ve found it, they put it on the air in heavy rotation from coast to coast. There’s no room for experimentation in the Future of Radio.
BURNETT: So we’re selling them red jelly beans, and green jelly beans, and black jelly beans, and blue jelly beans. Yes. They’re all jelly beans, you know? We’re interested in a cheeseburgers. You got any cheeseburger? You know? “No. We don’t.”
We have given in to some sort of notion of sanctioned music or something in the recording world.
KARR: Burnett says radio still helps sell millions of pop records. That may be good for the music industry, he says, but it’s terrible for music: Some performers have started to second-guess their muses and try to make their music safe enough to fit into the formats on stations owned by Clear Channel and other big chains.
BURNETT: You start using these words like “programming” and “formatting” and “demographics” and all that stuff. And you get really far away from what we all liked about music in the first place, which was you hit that string and it made a crazy sound, you know? It’s very primal.
KARR: Burnett wonders what happened to that old idea of the airwaves as a public trust.
BURNETT: That is not happening. If I may be so bold as to say that the public’s interest in not being served by the modern day radio establishment.
KARR: If T Bone Burnett has his way, fans will challenge the idea of “sanctioned” music. But, like other critics of deregulation, he worries that it may be too late to save radio. That as consultants, committees and computers come to control more radio programming, consumer choice and public service will be as endangered as live, local D-Js. We’ll hear fewer voices and they’ll just speak to — and for — the bottom line.
MOYERS: We turn now to some news about the news, updates on stories we’ve been covering.
First, Marwan Zaloum, the Palestinian leader who trained human bombers for the Al Aqsa Brigades.
Last month, producer Bryan Rich interviewed Zaloum near the West Bank city of Hebron. Marwan Zaloum told Bryan Rich he took responsibility for the training and deployment of suicide bombers.
ZALOUM (TRANSLATED): As a Palestinian fighter, I have played a role. My role, of course, given my experience, and this life I have lived.
I was asked to be in a position of responsibility.
MOYERS: Zaloums’s Al-Aqsa Brigade has claimed responsibility for seven bombings in the past three months, including this attack in a Jerusalem market carried out by Wafa Idris, the first woman suicide bomber.
ZALOUM (TRANSLATED): When Sharon was threatening to open the gates of hell, we were convinced that if we did not own planes, nor tanks, nor missiles, we had one strategic weapon, and that is faith.
We are obliged to use martyrdom operations.
I told you, the gates of hell, we did not want to open them from the beginning.
We say the martyrdom operation is a strategic weapon.
MOYERS: The deployment of these human bombers had landed Zaloum on Israel’s most wanted list, a list that has been getting shorter.
ZALOUM (TRANSLATED): I would like to tell you, without exaggeration, that perhaps I believe and I feel, for the first time in my life, that I am closer to gaining martyrdom, God permitting, and closer, minute by minute, to God almighty.
MOYERS: This past Monday night, Zaloum and his bodyguard were killed on the streets of Hebron.
The car they were traveling in was obliterated by a missile launched from an Israeli helicopter.
In revenge for Zaloum’s death, three Palestinians suspected of collaborating with the Israelis were dragged from their jail by fellow Palestinians and executed.
A mob of Palestinians, including children, soon gathered, spitting on the corpses.
Who knows how many Palestinian children even now are dreaming of becoming martyrs for their cause?
One news report after another says the supply of willing warriors is inexhaustible.
We have some new information about the family you met here last month in producer Tia Lessin’s report on Anser Mehmood.
Anser Mehmood came to America from Pakistan in 1989 on a tourist visa and stayed to work.
Like millions of other immigrants, Mehmood had decided to build a life here and brought his family over from Pakistan, even though his visa had expired.
But in the wake of September 11, Mehmood came under FBI suspicion because he was a truck driver licensed to haul hazardous materials. And on the morning of the attack on the Pentagon, he failed to make a scheduled delivery to Washington, D.C.
Mehmood was taken into custody, along with several thousand other men of Middle Eastern and South Asian origin. He was placed in a New York City detention center.
When we first broadcast this story, Mehmood’s wife, Uzma, had been forced to sell their possessions to pay for food, the bank was threatening to foreclose on their home, and the immigration and naturalization service was threatening deportation.
Uzma and her children had no option but to return home to Pakistan.
UZMA: My kids are used to this life.
It’s not easy for them to go back. They start their education here, and it’s difficult for them to start over in Pakistan. Their education, everything will be ruined.
You know? It, it will take time to get everything back.
MEHMOOD: What happened yesterday? Why did you stay outside?
HARRIS MEHMOOD: Why did I stay outside?
MOYERS: In the days before they left, the boys had their last telephone conversation with their father, who called from jail.
MEHMOOD: I want to see you home before dark, that’s it.
MOYERS: Uzma and her sons are now back in Karachi, Pakistan.
The teenage boys have yet to return to school, as they can neither read nor write in their parents native tongue, Urdu.
Mehmood remains here in custody, although it turned out that it was his company that canceled his September 11 shipment to Washington when they learned of the Pentagon bombing.
Mehmood has been imprisoned for over six months, many spent in solitary confinement.
At the beginning of this month, after pleading guilty to one count of using an altered social security card to secure employment, Anser Mehmood was sentenced to time served.
He remains in a New Jersey jail. The INS has yet to tell him when his deportation back to his family in Pakistan will occur.
And finally, we showed you this memorandum two weeks ago.
It was written by energy giant ExxonMobil to the White House, plotting the removal of the scientist Robert Watson from the chairmanship of world’s panel on climate change.
ExxonMobil has led the movement to discredit the threat of global warming, while Robert Watson heads the scientific community that takes it seriously.
MOYERS: When did you learn that Exxon Mobil had you on its hit list?
DR. ROBERT WATSON: I’d heard a number of months ago that a memo had been sent to the White House arguing that I should be displaced from the head of the inter governmental panel on climate change.
MOYERS: Why? What do they have to fear from you?
WATSON: I think they don’t like the message that I’m portraying.
I represent thousands of scientists across the world, and the conclusion of these scientists is that the earth’s climate is changing and it can be attributed to human activities.
And the dominant reason that we’re changing the earth’s climate is because we’re increasing the concentrations of a gas called carbon dioxide, and that comes from the combustion of fossil fuels: coal, oil, and gas.
MOYERS: This week, ExxonMobil’s wishes were granted.
Robert Watson was voted out of the chairmanship panel and replaced by one of the current vice-chairs, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri.
MOYERS: And now a look at stories coming up on NPR radio this weekend.
LYNN NEARY: Hi, I’m Lynn Neary with NPR News.
Listen to NPR’s WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY as we examine the legacy of an historic protest for disabled rights 25 years ago. It started the movement to led to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Also, a conversation with Australian singer songwriter Paul Kelly.
He’s a big star down under, and he’s looking for a bigger audience in this country.
For those stories and the news, tune into in to your local public radio station or visit our web site at npr.org.
MOYERS: This week, we celebrate the 438th birthday of William Shakespeare.
All these years later, Shakespeare’s alive — not only on the stage but in the movies. And there’s a new one on Turner Network Television, featuring Patrick Stewart.
Here’s Patrick Stewart playing a wealthy and egomaniacal Texas rancher named John Lear.
PATRICK STEWART AS JOHN LEAR: From today, I am giving the rank over to you three gals.
I want to get all this settled now so there won’t be any fighting amongst you after I’m gone.
DAUGHTER COLE: Pa, are you feeling all right?
LEAR: I’m feeling fine, Cole yeah, just fine.
I’ve even going to lead the round-up this year, just like always. But I won’t be here forever, and I want to get this matter settled.
DAUGHTER SUZANNA: And who gets which part of the land?
LEAR: Oh, Suzanna, I suppose that depends.
SUZANNA: On what?
LEAR: On who loves their father the most.
MOYERS: Patrick Stewart, whose first role many years ago was in a Shakespearean play. Now as John Lear, Texas rancher, the king of Texans.
It was it was Mr. Stewart’s idea to take the story of King Lear abroad to a wholly different landscape.
His crew wanted a place hospitable to ambition, arrogance, megalomania, and treachery, so naturally they decided on Texas.
My guest knows about these things.
We are both Texans.
He even edited my first book 32 years ago, but survived that banal beginning to enjoy a long and distinguished career as a literary editor in New York.
Soon after his retirement, Herman Gollob went to a performance of Hamlet in New York and fell head over heels again for the work of William Shakespeare.
In two weeks, he’ll publish a memoir of his passion. It’s called ME AND SHAKESPEARE.
HERMAN GOLLOB: Thank you, Bill, good to be here.
MOYERS: The surprising thing is that when I first met you 32 years ago, 33 or 34 years ago, you even talked about how your father had had you memorize Shakespeare when you were ten years old.
GOLLOB: Oh, my Dad, yes, indeed. My daddy had me actually learn the only major speeches of Shakespeare’s great villains– Iago, Richard III, Edmund the Bastard, and Cassius.
MOYERS: Just the villains?
GOLLOB: The villains, only the villains.
MOYERS: Why? Why the villains?
GOLLOB: Well, it was… I’ll tell you, it was… wasn’t so he could trot me out in front of company and I could, you know, perform my, you know, thespic wizardry.
He had a didactic purpose.
He said, “Son, when you grow up, you’re going to run into a lot of greedy, vicious, selfish, envious hombres, and they’re going to be very, very smart, and they’re very sneaky.
They’re going to want to make you think that they’re your friends.
But, believe me, whenever they get a chance, they’re going to stab you in the back and take everything you’ve got.”
GOLLOB: Great motivating, right? Great motivation.
MOYERS: Great preparation for publishing in New York.
GOLLOB: I mean, you know, the end of innocence for little Herb. You know, no WINNIE THE POOH for me and… no, no WIND IN THE WILLOWS, man. It was Iago, et cetera, et cetera.
MOYERS: And did you learn them?
GOLLOB: Yeah, I learn… I learned some of them, as a matter of fact, I did.
MOYERS: Remember any of them?
GOLLOB: You mean now?
GOLLOB: Yeah, I think I could remember a little of “Cassius.” Dare I?
GOLLOB: Okay, so I set the scene just a bit, so we’ll know where we are. This is early on Act I, Scene I. I guess it’s Scene I, Brutus and Cassius, they’re standing outside the arena.
Inside the games are being played in front of, you know, Caesar and Calpernia and his retinue. And Cassius has been trying to plant the seeds of doubt and suspicion in Brutus’ mind so that he can join the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar.
And while they’re talking, there’s this great roar comes from the crowd.
And Brutus starts to… Cassius says, you know, “looks like they’re going to heap some more honors on old… old Caesar.”
And Cassius looks at him and says, “My man, he doth destroyed the narrow world like a colossus.
And we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about to find ourselves dishonorable graves, men that sometimes aren’t masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we were underlings.
Brutus and Caesar, what should be in that Caesar?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Upon what meet that doth though, Caesar, feed that he has grown so great.
Age, thou art shame?
Rome has lost the breed of noble men.”
Well, I dropped a few lines here and there, but…
MOYERS: But ten years old when you learned this.
MOYERS: And your father wanted you to learn this so you would know there were villains in the world?
GOLLOB: That’s right. Well, you know.
MOYERS: And was he right?
GOLLOB: Well, as a matter of fact…yes
MOYERS: Did you learn this?
GOLLOB: As the years went on, I guess I did meet up with some of these hombres. In fact, I might have been one of them myself at times, you know. Nobody’s perfect.
You learn the lines of Iago and Cassius, et cetera, when you’re a kid and it…tends to warp you.
But you know, coming to this later on in life, Bill, coming back to Shakespeare decades later and sort of re-acquainting myself with these villains and even with some of the sympathetic characters that go astray, I saw a moral principle emerging, if I may use the term.
Namely, how… how dangerous and dehumanizing it is to exalt the intellect over the heart. Pure intellect breeds egotism.
And what’s the great moral struggle of our time has always been egotism versus altruism since the beginnings of time.
I mean, you could say the Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel were the allegories about he dark consequences of intellectual hubris, you know?
I don’t know whether you’re familiar with the ethics of the fathers the book of the Talmud which is, you know, the moral sayings…
MOYERS: No, no.
GOLLOB: …and wisdom of the sages.
And rather puts poses that issue in terms of two questions: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself alone, what am I?”
The egotist is for himself alone, and he is ruthlessly ambitious, greedy, riddled, eaten alive within the… greedy for gain, greedy for power.
MOYERS: But isn’t the conflict in Shakespeare between the ego and the altruist, between the egoism and altruism?
GOLLOB: Well, now… well, sure, it’s all good — ego and altruism, good and evil, life and death.
You find that throughout Shakespeare, as you do as a matter of fact through the Bible.
Julius Caesar put his finger on this issue, as far as I’m concerned, when he talks about Cassius to Mark Antony. He says he thinks too much.
“Such men as he be never at heart’s ease while as they behold greater than themselves. And therefore are they very dangerous?”
The irony is that you… look, he could have been just as well talking about Iago or Edmund the Bastard or Richard III.
And as I said, the irony is that he is actually talking about himself and doesn’t know it.
Because Brutus and his soliloquy a little later on when he’s trying to talk himself into assassinating Caesar, trying to rationalize this, says the abuse of greatness is when it just joins remorse from power, and to speak truth of Caesar, I have not known whether his affections swayed more than his reason.
The ironic thing is that he is letting his reason overwhelm his affections at that time.
MOYERS: Do you have a favorite villain in Shakespeare?
GOLLOB: Richard III, I guess, I love. I can’t quote any Richard III.
So I said, well, ironic, I actually played it when I was studying acting at the Pasadena Playhouse, my first year there. And I had this heavy southern accent.
But, you know, John Barton says that the closest thing to an Elizabethan accent is a Southwestern accent, particularly a Texas accent. So you and I have been talking Elizabethan English all our lives.
MOYERS: If we could only write it.
GOLLOB: And didn’t know it. Well, we haven’t tried yet. Bring up that blank verse.
MOYERS: The fact of the matter is that for all of his understanding of dark deeds and black hearts, for all of his temptations with evil, Shakespeare was not a moralizer, was he?
GOLLOB: No, he was not a moralizer. He was a…a moralist. A moralizer believes in moral certitude. A moralist believes in moral ambiguity.
Shakespeare had this uncanny God-like, and I mean it, God-like understanding of human nature, the human condition.
GOLLOB: God, yeah, you know… Andre Gide once said, “Shakespeare is not quite God.”
MOYERS: But he knew the human heart?
GOLLOB: He knew the human heart. And he knew the human heart like few people, like few mortals do.
It’s the contradictoriness of human nature that Shakespeare saw. One minute we’re good, the next minute evil. One minute we’re chaste, next minute lascivious. Selfish one minute, you know…
MOYERS: “Who so firm cannot be seduced?”
GOLLOB: “…be seduced,” where is that from?
GOLLOB: Who so firm… one moment, one moment please.
Cassius, after Brutus and the guys have gone off stage in that same scene, has this little weenie soliloquy, okay?
And he’s very happy because he sees that his words have begun to take effect on Brutus.
And he says, “Well, Brutus, thou art noble.
Yet I see thy honorable metal may be wrought from that that is disposed.
Therefore it is meet that noble minds keep ever with their likes for who so firm cannot be seduced.”
Now, you think, as an actor, I’d love those lines.
These are great actor’s parts that… Shakespeare’s villains. Because, you know, Shakespeare’s villains are actors themselves.
MOYERS: No question this was written by a man of the theater, right?
GOLLOB: Well, that’s why no one but Shakespeare could have written these plays.
I don’t want to raise that can of worms right now. But…
MOYERS: Was there one Shakespeare?
GOLLOB: Only a guy who loved the theater, knew the theater could have written these plays, and also the…
MOYERS: And knew the ear, the human ear.
GOLLOB: Yeah, well…
MOYERS: As well as the human heart.
GOLLOB: Yeah, but remember what he did with the language, what he did with iambic pentameter was to revolutionize it.
MOYERS: Give me an example.
GOLLOB: I’ll give you one thing that Ralph Fiennes did that I found very interesting.
When he came out, he burst on stage when he did the “To be or not to be” soliloquy.
And he said, “To be or not to be, that is the question.”
Well, you know, that’s the iambic pentameter– “to be or not to be, that\is\the question.”
Most actors do not do that.
They use the prosaic, “to be or not to be, that is the question.”
But the way Fiennes did it is he’s been struggling with himself and he said, “No, that \is\the question.”
The other one is, “that is the question.”
It seems the more logical…
GOLLOB: …rational way to do it.
These are the subtle things that can be brought in a script, just by changing the… changing the meter.
MOYERS: If Shakespeare were around today and you could assign him one modern figure about whom to write, who would it be?
GOLLOB: I think, get a load of this, that LBJ…
GOLLOB: …would be the greatest subject…
GOLLOB: …for Shakespeare.
Complicated and contradictory, a true tragic hero, I think, a man who could do great things.
Well, you know him better than I do, Bill, of course.
MOYERS: I know what you mean. Here was a man who was… his heart was saying, “I don’t want to go to war.”
MOYERS: “I know what’s going to happen if I go to war.” But his head was saying, his…
MOYERS: His head, yearning to please the rationalist, went to war. His head took him where his heart didn’t want to go.
GOLLOB: But that must have worked with him all his life, Bill.
MOYERS: He was a… a war between egoism and altruism. The good that I would do, I don’t. The evil that I wouldn’t do, I do. I mean, this was Lyndon Johnson. But it’s not untypical of so many of us ambitious people.
GOLLOB: Let me tell you, we all connect with Shakespeare in some way or another.
You know, the events, the happenings in Shakespeare, we can sort of relate to what’s going on in the world around us in our personal lives.
You mentioned my daddy when he, when he was dying of cancer in a Houston hospital. You know, I went to see him. You know, I lived 2,000 miles away, and I couldn’t be there all the time.
You know, I’m an only child, no family there, so I was really all he had. And I, you know, I couldn’t be there the… during that…during his entire siege.
But he was… well, he looked sort of like Lear — had his white hair, his long, white hair, this white mustache. And he was in great pain, all these tubes coming out of him.
You know, and he was really my best friend, my father. I mean, he was a great man, the most honest, decent, ethical man I’ve ever known.
And here he was dying in great pain, and he said, “You know, son, I just want to go to the other side.”
And I can hear in my mind the lines from the Duke of Kent, at the end of King Lear.
“He hates him, who would on the rack of this tough world stretch him out longer.”
And I was stretching my old man out longer. I didn’t want him to die actually. I figured, you know, a miracle will happen, he’ll get better. And of course he didn’t.
MOYERS: And at his funeral?
GOLLOB: I quoted from Julius Caesar, from the… or Mark Antony’s funeral oration over Brutus: “His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him, that nature might stand up and say to all the world, ‘this was a man.'”
Shakespeare actually believed in the mystery… the mysteriousness of life.
That’s one of the keys to his work.
John Keats, my favorite romantic poet, defined the essence of Shakespeare. He said, “Shakespeare is negative capability.”
That’s what defines him, which is the capacity of being in the world of doubt, mystery, and uncertainty without any irritable reaching after fact or reason.
Shakespeare is not wanton for that irritable reaching after fact or reason. He loved the mystery…mysteriousness of the world.
MOYERS: What’s the key to reading, in just one sentence?
If you want to go in 2002 and discover Shakespeare, what kind of ear do you take?
GOLLOB: The best way to appreciate Shakespeare is to see it. Rent tapes if you can. Go to the theater. I don’t care whether it’s an amateur production or it’s a little, you know, it’s a little, you know, a middle school production. Go and see Shakespeare.
GOLLOB: Because they are meant to be performed. They’re meant to be heard.
People used to say in Elizabethan times, “Let’s go hear a Shakespeare play.” Now, yeah, sometimes the vocabulary’s a little hard, you know.
You might want to look at the book to see what they’re talking about. Sometimes the syntax might be a little convoluted. But still, the richest language that has ever been written for the stage is Shakespearean language. It can shake you to the core even though you don’t understand every doggone word of it.
MOYERS: Thank you, Herman.
GOLLOB: Thanks, Bill
MOYERS: Herman Gollob, ME AND SHAKESPEARE.
MOYERS: It’s been ten years.
Ten years ago this week, Los Angeles burned.
April 1992 its streets erupted in violence, and when the smoke cleared, 55 people were dead.
The trigger was the verdict in a trial.
Four police officers stood accused of beating Rodney King after he led them on a wild chase through the streets.
The black man’s ordeal was captured on videotape, but the verdict was not guilty.
The policemen went free, and South Central Los Angeles blew.
The photographer Ted Soqui was on the scene ten years ago, and he’s gone back to see what has changed.
TED SOQUI: Everything seemed to be on fire in the city after the verdicts came down, because everyone thought it was going to be guilty.
Just fires everywhere, big plumes of black smoke, and it was this huge old structure, maybe about three, four stories tall.
People were like dancing through the smoke and driving through it like a little game.
Fire trucks finally showed up, and they looked at the building and wrote it off.
They didn’t even try to put out the fire. The fire department drove off.
The weird irony is that the building did not burn down. It actually withstood the fire.
I went inside the building and there’s no scars from there. Everything’s been replaced. It turned into a swap meet.
SECURITY GUARD: It was like a war zone out here. Next thing I know, all the power went out in the neighborhood for about three days.
FRAZIER: And that’s when all the people were coming out and saying, “Well, the police is not stopping anything and they’re not doing anything about it, so we’re just going to do what we want to do.”
MAN IN PARKING LOT: And a lot of people who had businesses here after the riot just folded up and left. A lot of people lost their jobs on account of it, the riot. Lost their livelihood.
SOQUI: Olympic Boulevard and Albany. There was an apartment building for Latino families, and it was affordable. It was huge, and it burned down in the riots.
The people that were living there seemed to be almost like this was the way life is, and we’ve got to start again. There wasn’t any anger.
It was like, “Okay, got to find my, you know, possessions, whatever I can. I’m going to start again.”
It’s still an empty field.
And I assure you, if that happened on some of the nicer parts of the city, if an apartment building burned down, it would be replaced.
But since it was a Latino immigrant place to move into, it wasn’t replaced.
MAN AT GAS STATION: A lot of people use the phrase, “Well, they just burn up their own neighborhood and hurt themselves.” Well, come on. They don’t feel like this is our neighborhood. They feel like they don’t own anything, right?
FRAZIER: They came together and looted the stores. It was no such thing as, “This is mine and this is yours,” or, “You’re Spanish and I’m black.” It was like, “Get what you want.”
WOMAN IN PARKING LOT: I think that you can sense kind of an undercurrent just from talking to people that we are not out of the woods yet at all.
SOQUI: I saw this scene on Adams Avenue. And I was taken aback by the devastation of what the fires from the rioting have done to the businesses and buildings of the street.
Then I saw these kids, and they walked up to me and they said, “Man, you need to get out of here because there was some photographer just down here and he just got robbed.” They were nice little kids.
It just didn’t make sense to see these little children walking down the street with all this destruction.
So coming back to it was kind of a trip, and it feels just as depressed and heavy and xenophobic. The people on the street, they watch you, you know.
But then as I was taking pictures, I saw these kids on bicycles, and they were approximately the same age as the kids back in the original photo in ’92.
MAN WITH RABBIT: Race relations hasn’t improved, you know? And as long as it doesn’t improve, it’s going to stay just the way it is.
MAN AT GAS STATION: Everything is there. All you need is a spark and it would happen again. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t see any fundamental differences between then and now.
MAN IN RED SHIRT: If there was another riot, it would kind of surprise me, and I feel that it’s not necessary in our evolved times where we should be able to all get along.
FRAZIER: I think they’re just as angry. It just doesn’t show as much.
MAN IN PARKING LOT: If they had another riot here that would be one of the biggest mistakes they would make. A big mistake. Burning down anyone else’s home or property is not going to solve anything. All it’s going to do is put you and myself and anybody else in the hole.
SOQUI: It’s not a very friendly place, and it could be.
There’s a lot of great people, but the conditions of the area, there’s nowhere to work. The schools aren’t serving the public.
The streets are beat up, the lampposts are old, and it’s kind of a shame.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
MOYERS: That was the photographer Ted Soqui.
That’s it for this week.
Once again, it’s your turn.
Go to pbs.org and tell us what you think about media mergers, and what you will do when you retire.
For NOW, I’m Bill Moyers.
This transcript was entered on March 27, 2015