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Dean Threat to Big Media Ends

Big media companies had cause to celebrate last Wednesday when former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean ended his quest for the White House after the former frontrunner failed to win a single primary or caucus in 17 tries.

Of all the Democratic candidates who had a shot at the nomination, Dean was the most outspoken about his antipathy for what he called the “establishment” media, which he considered too big and more or less protective of the status quo in Washington, D.C., that he wanted to shake up.

Dean formally bowed out of the race Feb. 18, though he said he intends to use his grassroots network to continue to push for reform in Washington.

His departure effectively narrowed the field to frontrunner Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.).

“I am no longer actively pursuing the presidency,” Dean told supporters at a Burlington, Vt., rally.

At various points in his campaign, Dean spoke out against new Federal Communications Commission media ownership rules that permit greater common ownership of major media outlets in local markets.

As part of his anti-Washington insider message, Dean complained that large media conglomerates had too much power and need to be broken up.

His reform message — fueled by more than $40 million in funding raised over the Internet in small contributions — pushed Dean to the front of the pack before several verbal gaffes contributed to losses in key contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Dean's demise will help media companies that feared conflict with him in the White House. Dean, for instance, favored free TV time for political candidates — something local TV stations have bitterly opposed — and opposed allowing one company to own a newspaper and a broadcast property in the same local market. The newspaper and broadcast industries are currently defending the FCC's broad repeal of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban in federal appeals court in Philadelphia.

Last May, Dean wrote FCC chairman Michael Powell urging him to postpone the June 2 vote on relaxing media ownership rules. He later supported legislation designed to rollback the FCC's deregulatory moves.

The legislation passed the Senate (in a vote both Kerry and Edwards missed), but has stalled in the House.

About six weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Dean appeared on MSNBC's Hardball With Chris Matthews and called for the breakup of “giant media enterprises,” complaining that 11 media firms controlled 90% of what people read and watch on TV in the U.S.

While Dean has been outspoken on media issues, Kerry and Edwards have not been.

But one activist predicted that Kerry — who likely wraps up the nomination with big wins March 2 when 12 states hold a primary or caucus — would incorporate Dean's media message into his assault on the Bush administration.

“Kerry recognizes now that [media ownership] is an issue that Democrats haven't raised, and he's going to proceed with a more supportive agenda,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

Dean argued that media consolidation denied the public access to diverse news and opinion.