Recent examples abound. Take the case of Cablevision, the nation’s fifth largest cable operator. Two years ago, at a time when it owned the New York Knicks and New York Rangers, Cablevision purchased Newsday for around $650 million. By April of this year, The New York Observer was reporting complaints of “rank censorship” in the sports department’s coverage. “There’s a general resignation to it all here,” said one Newsday insider. “It just feels like another blow to the integrity of the paper. The other shoe finally dropped. Cablevision bought us, and now it’s finally happening.”
Or, take this year’s Masters tournament, which marked the return of Tiger Woods in the aftermath of his well-publicized sex scandal. More than a few sports insiders were struck at the way CBS Sports, which had paid a hefty sum to the Masters for the broadcast rights for the tournament, soft-pedaled its coverage of Woods. Bryant Gumbel, host of HBO’s Real Sports, was blunt. A recent AP story had him noting that CBS and the Masters were profit-seeking partners. “Do you really think when we watch the Masters that Jim Nantz is going to harp on Tiger Woods’s troubles? I think not,” he said.
In hindsight, the Comcast firing is less about two warring TV personalities than about the corrosive influence of over-concentrated corporate power. It was never a fair fight. Think Nolan at 5-foot-9 inches up against O’Reilly at 6-foot-4—with two giant media conglomerates behind him. Think Dustin Pedroia, the little Red Sox second baseman, up against the whole New York Yankee lineup.
Nolan has landed a communications job with the Joint Economic Committee of Congress and commutes weekly from Washington to his Newton home. His show Backstage on CN8 is no more; plagued by low ratings, Comcast discontinued the CN8 brand last year. To date, Nolan says he has incurred $100,000 in legal fees.
But he is still in a fighting mood. “I don’t think they had the F-ing right to tell me what I’m allowed to say. In the end, I think they were trying to suck up to Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch and Bill O’Reilly in a way that’s spineless and appalling for a company [Comcast] that aspires to run a major network news operation [NBC]. What happens when Keith Olbermann goes after O’Reilly? I think that’s scary.”