Changing Perspectives: Presidents and Their Influence in Media Politics

Jennifer Holt’s book, Empires of Entertainment: Media Industries and the Politics of Deregulation, 1980-1996, examines the shifting policies that allowed major media corporations to monopolize the entertainment market. Holt summarizes, “Empires of Entertainment retrieves the many distinct elements of this history and delineates the key moments, players, and dynamics that enacted a monumental shift in the political economy of visual entertainment” (5). Amongst some of these major players are the law enforcers (The Department of Justice) and the President of the United States. The policies in place changed significantly with the different presidential administrations. From the implementation of the first anti-trust laws in the silent movie era to the celebration of Hollywood in Reagan’s term and finally the aggressive investigation of trusts by the Clinton administration, it is clear that Reagan’s term was game changer for media monopolists.

The Sherman Act of 1890 was the first anti-trust legislation. President Woodrow Wilson’s administration created the Clayton Act of 1914, an amendment to the Sherman Act which, was responsible for the deconstruction of the Motion Picture Patents Company in the silent film era. Wilson’s case against the MPPC was the first act on behalf of the President against the entertainment industry. This policy would also be responsible for dismantling the Hollywood Studio System, which was the most famous anti-trust case. This policy remained in place until the 1970s when Jimmy Carter and then Richard Nixon practiced a more relaxed approach to anti-trust issues. This relaxed attitude allowed Ronald Reagan to show favor to the entertainment industry without much reproach. As a former actor, Reagan showed an allegiance to Hollywood and an interest in keeping government hands off of the industry. In his own words, he believed that, “Film is forever” (4) and sought to maintain the industry’s success. He utilized the “Chicago School” of thought, which promoted a hands-off approach in the interest of fostering and maintaining more efficiency in business. Reagan’s approach meant that the government wouldn’t intervene when moguls like Ted Turner forged a path to reconstruct the entertainment industry, combining film, cable and broadcast under one successful umbrella.

Ted Turner

Ted Turner

Turner’s success was a direct result of Reagan’s policies because broadcast, cable and film were all previously separate in order to discourage horizontal and vertical integration (2). Many mergers took place during Reagan’s term without interference from the Department of Justice despite the fact that these mergers defied anti-trust laws. However, these mergers created tension amongst business leaders.

Following Reagan’s term, Bill Clinton’s administration took a more activist approach to anti-trust laws and investigated big companies and corporations with an intensified fervor. However the Telecommunications Act of 1996, opened up the gate to further convergence amongst telecommunications and cable companies, which just goes to show that the enforcement of anti-trust laws operates similar to a wave, ebbing and flowing.


  1. Turner’s mustache is awful.

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