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Reality check

The hidden cost of ownership deregulation may be surfacing in the frenzy for content controls that has lately gripped Washington. There is much campaign hot air in the reregulatory trial balloons being floated. But, perhaps as some quid pro quo for loosening the reins on the size of companies or their holdings, regulators, egged on by advocacy groups, appear emboldened to resurrect the content-regulation schemes of a less enlightened past (see story, page 48).

Amid this tide, swelling in the wake of the FTC report on media marketing, some calmer voices could be heard last week, and from some unexpectedly cooler heads. Although John McCain's Commerce Committee approved a violence harbor bill last week, it did so without his blessing (he declined to vote rather than voting no, perhaps out of deference to sponsor Ernest Hollings).

The bill is not expected to pass the full Senate, but the climate may be such that it could be tougher to cast a public vote against it there.

It would have been easy for McCain, a long-time media-violence critic, to join the other committee members making political hay out of the issue (the vote was 16 to 2).

Elsewhere, Ed Markey, who has always been either a thorn or a spur to broadcasters, depending on your vantage, refused to join the Fairness Doctrine bandwagon rolling down the Gore campaign trail.

For the record, here is what McCain said about the prospect of the FCC as media-violence arbitrator: "The notion of letting five unelected bureaucrats decide what can be broadcast and when it can be broadcast is objectionable to most free people." Our thoughts exactly. Markey's take on disinterring the Fairness Doctrine was even more succinct: Rest in peace. Just tell us where to send the flowers.