Not-So-Far- Fetched Villain?


Media monster 007 . . .

You might say that Elliot Carver--the latest power-mad super fiend to foolishly challenge James Bond--is an old-fashioned reporter who’ll do anything to get a story. Even create it himself.

“I’m having fun with my headlines,” global media scum Carver (Jonathan Pryce) blithely tells a subordinate in the just-released “Tomorrow Never Dies.” This obedient co-conspirator has his orders, to coordinate the high-tech-driven military slaughter orchestrated by Carver with the banner headline his boss is fiddling with. The sequence pointedly captures the irony of a message being created and tailored by an omnipotent messenger to fit his personal agendum.

Already reaching an audience of 1 billion through its splayed radii of communications, the Carver Media Group is big--gargantuanly big--and aiming to squander innocent lives and imperil world peace to grow still bigger. “Words are the new weapons, satellites the new artillery,” proclaims Carver, who owns just about everything--movies, book publishing, magazines, newspapers, television, cable--but has a homicidal snit when denied access to China’s multitudes.


Yikes! No wonder, then, that Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is willing to devote nearly two exhausting hours to decoding and foiling Carver’s incendiary scheme to manipulate the information humanity receives and, consequently, control what we think and think about.

As always, the planet’s future depends on the guile and resourcefulness of a single, exquisitely tailored Englishman with soaring testosterone. Nothing to be taken seriously.

In a curious way, though, “Tomorrow Never Dies” is the most real of all the Bond movies, as well as the scariest.

Screenwriter Bruce Feirstein is clearly having as much fun with Carver as Carver is with his headlines. Yet Feirstein is on to something important here in making his villain a striking metaphor, however exaggerated, for a scary phenomenon of recent years:

The centering of media control in fewer and fewer hands, at once widening the reach of the messenger and potentially narrowing and homogenizing the message. In other words, less fingers in more pies. Not a happy prospect.

You’ll note that this newspaper itself is a component of a large media company, Times Mirror Co. But there’s big, and there’s big.

In the 1990s, for example, NBC was already part of giant General Electric Co. by the time the Walt Disney Co. absorbed ABC, Westinghouse Electric Corp. consumed CBS and Time Warner Inc. acquired Ted Turner’s archipelago of media interests. Thus, GE, Disney, Westinghouse and Time Warner--the largest media company on the planet--now control, along with numerous other entities, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News and 24-hour CNN, respectively. Meanwhile, NBC joined with Bill Gates’ Microsoft Corp. in creating cable’s all-news MSNBC, and Rupert Murdoch’s mammoth News Corp. has Fox Television, the Fox News Channel, 20th Century Fox, TV Guide, HarperCollins, the New York Post, major newspapers in England, Australia and New Zealand, massive TV systems in Italy and Asia, and somewhere, probably, a partridge in a pear tree.

Although none of these behemoths has resorted to Carveresque extremes to widen its reach and tighten its communications grip, the potential for the singular, self-serving message or series of messages is always present despite an illusion of diversity that sometimes comes with bigness.

That smart media critic Mark Crispin Miller has written: “The true cause of the enormous ills that now dismay so many Americans--the universal sleaze and ‘dumbing down,’ the flood-tide of corporate propaganda, the terminal insanity of United States politics--has risen not from any grand decline in national character . . . but from the inevitable toxic influence of those few corporations that have monopolized our culture.”

Even if you believe Miller overstates the case, the trend of narrowing control has to be viewed as extremely worrisome. As another perceptive media observer, Ben Bagdikian, has stated: “Some of the largest corporations in the country and the world . . . now own distribution and control what much of the American public sees.”


Thus, when you get CNN these days, you sometimes also get Time magazine, these Time Warner siblings having collaborated on several joint news ventures for TV. And with both GE and Westinghouse having substantial interests in nuclear production, will NBC News or CBS News ever do a truly searing story examining nuclear issues? In a medium long famous for chauvinism, will ABC News ever do a tough story on Disney? We’ve already seen the opposite case, with ABC’s “Good Morning America” doing extended puff pieces on Disney World.

Will any of these major media players, moreover, ever summon the courage and integrity to examine in-depth the dangers of a few multinational corporations controlling more and more, something that will require them to take an honest look at themselves? Don’t bank on it.

With great relish, that demon Carver declares: “Let the mayhem begin!” When it comes to clobbering media diversity, it already has.