The Hightower Report

Stamping Out the Free Press; and Democracy v. ZIP Code 10021


At last, Washington officials are doing something about the problem of corporate control of America's media sources. Unfortunately, what they're doing will make the problem worse.

The culprit is the U.S. Postal Service, which is now a corporation rather than a government agency. It is presently changing what it charges for mailing publications, doing so in a way that reverses 215 years of postal policy.

From Jefferson and Madison forward, a bedrock principle of the post office has been to use mailing rates as a means of encouraging a free press. Rates for smaller publications have always been cheaper to help them get started and survive. The idea is to stimulate competition and keep the flow of ideas open.

Now, however, the postal corporation has proposed a rate increase that will sock smaller periodicals with a hike of up to 30% while letting the largest and richest publishers skate by with a hike of less than 10%. Mailing is the highest expense for most small publications, so this skewed rate structure threatens their very existence.

Guess who drafted this new rate scheme. Time Warner, the largest magazine publisher in the country. Small publishers were not consulted, there were no public hearings, and not even Congress was asked about it.

Throughout our history, it's been the sassy, iconoclastic publications outside the conglomerate structure that have often provided the sharpest analysis and most original journalism. America desperately needs them. This is not a left-wing or right-wing issue – it's a democracy issue.

The perverted rate policy is scheduled to be imposed on July 15 – but there's still time to demand congressional action. Rep. Danny Davis chairs the post office oversight committee in Congress. Ask him to stand against Time Warner … and for a free press: 202/225-5051.


The most popular ZIP code in America for politicians is 10021.

This is the Upper East Side of Manhattan, home to CEOs, stockbrokers, and wealthy investors. In last year's congressional elections, more campaign contributions flowed from this one posh neighborhood than from hundreds of other ZIP codes combined.

These corporate elites are not writing the big checks to Sen. Windbag and Rep. Blowhard because they want to support "good government" – they're out to buy government, using their checks to gain favor from lawmakers who can do favors for them.

Big money has stunted our democracy and corrupted Washington. Instead of representing the folks back home or grappling with the big issues of our time, Congress Critters spend their time dragging a sack to lobbyists' offices, corporate suites, and other privileged ZIP codes, filling their sacks with corrupt funds.

The rule of thumb for newly elected senators, for example, is that they must raise $25,000 every single week of their six-year term to have enough to win re-election. That means they're sacking up more money in two weeks than the typical American family earns in a whole year.

Well, that's just the way it is, say those profiting from the system. There's nothing anyone can do about it.

BS! One thing we can do is get behind the Fair Elections Now Act, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin and Arlen Specter. This proposal, Senate Bill 936, sets up a clean system that combines spending limits and public funding of congressional campaigns. It's based on highly successful models already working in Arizona, Maine, North Carolina, and elsewhere.

This is reform that works. A fair-elections coalition of grassroots groups has formed to pass this bill. To get involved, call Public Campaign: 202/293-0222. Let's take our democracy back from the rich ZIP codes.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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U.S. Postal Service, small publishers, Danny Davis, Time Warner, privileged ZIP codes, Fair Elections Now Act, Dick Durbin, Arlen Specter, S.936, A Fair Election Coalition, Public Campaign

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