BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. [CLIP PLAYS] [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
MAN: And welcome to hour number three of Cam & Company on NRA News dot com-- and broadcasting live today the big debut on Sirius, Channel 126.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, you heard correctly. That NRA. This week, the National Rifle Association went live on Sirius Satellite Radio with its daily talk show, previously available only over the web. The three hour show consists of straightforward newscasts--:
ANNOUNCER: Mis-communication plagued the U.S. government's response to the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. The independent panel investigating...
BOB GARFIELD: Equally straightforward advocacy-
ANNOUNCER: As violent crime rates went up, anti-gun schemes rained down. But the NRA fought back, defending the right to self defense.
BOB GARFIELD: And plenty of pro-gun rights discussion, talk radio style. But the NRA says its media aspirations, which include plans to eventually buy actual radio stations, are as much about the First Amendment as the second one. By taking its show live now, the group claims it no longer is subject to pre-election spending limits for lobbying organizations laid out in the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance law. Why? Because that law exempts, newspapers, broadcasters and other media outlets. And thus, says NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre, the gun lobby now qualifies.
WAYNE LAPIERRE: The government in our country doesn't hand out permission slips as to who is entitled to deliver news and information and who's not. In America, going back to Tom Paine and the pamphleteers, anyone has been entitled to deliver news and information, and this McCain-Feingold bill says that you can only do that if you're in the media business. Well, I'm telling NBC and ABC and CBS and the New York Times -- we're all family now. We're in the media business too.
BOB GARFIELD: I'm joined now by Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. Larry, welcome to the show
LARRY NOBLE: Thank you, Bob. I'm glad to be with you.
BOB GARFIELD: I must say, much as I'd like to, I'm having trouble finding a hole in that argument. What about you?
LARRY NOBLE: I think he's over-stating it when he says that the government does not decide what is the media when, in fact, in a number of contexts, the federal agencies do and the courts have to decide whether they are, in fact, media. And there are some indicia of media that the courts have talked about in the past. Really, what we look at here is whether or not this acts like media in terms of being periodical; are they going to continue to do this? And are they distributing it the way that media is normally distributed? Is this a series of political commercials, or is this really an attempt to put on a show with commentary in it? But I have to admit that it's becoming harder and harder to draw those lines.
BOB GARFIELD: I want to play another clip for you. This is also from our interview with Wayne LaPierre. We asked him if there's really a difference between a commercial entity whose primary product is mass media, like, for example, Viacom, and a non-profit advocacy organization whose main goal is to influence policy.
WAYNE LAPIERRE: I know some people say well wait a minute, now, you guys give money to political candidates, and that makes you somehow different. I say back to that well wait just a minute here -- Time Warner, which owns CNN, gave 5.1 million in the 2000 election cycle to politicians. Viacom, which owns CBS, gave 3.7 million. Disney, which owns ABC, gave 3.1 million. And News Corporation which owns Fox gave 1.6 million. So, there's no difference.
LARRY NOBLE: He is right that these companies that own these other media outlets do in fact have a history of making political contributions. He left out Clear Channel. The owners of Clear Channel are big supporters of President Bush. Maybe at the end of the day it doesn't make that much difference. The fact is they're all getting involved in the political process. There is no doubt the NRA has a view it's pushing, but that's true with a lot of different outlets. The question, though, is: does it have the same credibility of some of these other outlets in the sense that it is only pushing one view and that its political contributions really go only towards one view?
BOB GARFIELD: A satellite radio show is one thing. What happens if the NRA goes through with plans to actually start acquiring radio stations?
LARRY NOBLE: Well, on one hand, they actually may strengthen their argument that they fit under the media exemption. In this country, there's a long history of companies owning media outlets and nobody claims there's a problem with that. So that, actually, in some ways may be their strongest way to go. They, then, definitely deal with a financial problem in terms of how much it costs to do that. I'm not sure how many groups can really go out there and afford to buy radio stations. However, I think if the NRA is successful at this -- both legally and financially and politically, I have no doubt that you will see numerous corporations, trade associations, unions trying to do the same thing, and you will see very narrow casting in terms of ideological issues. And it does really run the risk of blowing a, a major hole in the McCain-Feingold law unless there does seem to be some concept of media that we can all agree on or at least learn to live with.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, Larry. Well, thank you very much.
LARRY NOBLE: My pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD: Larry Noble is executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.