Washington Prowler

Reinventing Cable

Al Gore denied clear access. Plus: Kerry disses Bill Richardson.

By 5.7.04

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NO CLEAR ACCESS
Former vice president Al Gore claims his new cable network won't be liberal in tone, just hip.

But judging by his investors, even-handedness isn't going to cut it. Beyond Gore's partner in the deal, Joel Hyatt, former Ohio Sen. Howard Metzenbaum's son-in-law, the new cable channel -- formerly Newsworld International -- has the husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein on board as a major cash cow, as well as big DNC fundraiser Ron Burkle. Both former President Bill Clinton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson sit on Burkle's company board.

Gore was down in New Orleans to make the announcement to the nation's largest cable system providers and producers. His announcement was not greeted with the fanfare he expected.

"I don't know of a single cable operator who is enthusiastic about this Gore deal," says a lawyer for one of the smaller operators in the South. "They don't like him going back to his Senate days when he stabbed cable folks in the back. And they didn't like him running for president. No one is going to bend over backward to help him succeed."

Gore earned the enmity of the cable industry back in 1992, when he led a Democratic effort in Congress to regulate the cable industry. By conservative accounts, his actions on legislation cost the industry between $3 billion to $5 billion in profits.

Gore seemed oblivious to the simmering resentment in the Big Easy, when he swooped in uninvited and unannounced to a party hosted by a group of cable system operators. According to eyewitnesses, he never noticed that as he walked the room, guests made a point of avoiding him. "At one point, you have a group of about 25 or 30 guests all bunched up at one end of the room, with Gore and his entourage at the other," says the lawyer. "It was like the geeks being avoided by the cool guys at a fraternity party."

The longstanding troubles between Gore and the cable operators is important, if only because Gore needs them to clear space on their systems for his channel. Currently, few cable systems around the country carry Newsworld International. DirecTV, the satellite operator, carries the channel, as does Time Warner cable in New York.

Gore will have to negotiate with other cable operators on the clearance fees they will pay to pick up his network.

"If he thinks the negotiations to buy the channel were tough, he is going to be surprised at how tough it will be to negotiate carriage from these operators," says the lawyer. "They are going to drive a hard bargain, and his investors won't be happy."

CACTUS FLOWERS
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry ran as a liberal in the primaries, now he's apparently decidedly to flip-flop to the center. On Friday, he will address the Democratic Leadership Council conference in Arizona. His decision to pander to the center-left of the Democratic Party isn't really the news coming out of the DLC meeting. It's the man introducing Kerry who will raise all the eyebrows.

Kerry asked that DLC head Al From have Sen. Evan Bayh serve as the introductory speaker before he takes the podium. Kerry's request angered Gov. Bill Richardson, who had been led to believe that he would be the man calling out Kerry's name. Richardson had apparently lobbied for the honor, but Bayh, as DLC chairman, was the natural option, and Kerry asked for his Senate colleague.

The significance of Bayh is really only due to the fact that he has been mentioned as a potential running mate for Kerry, and he has been the least visible of the names mentioned on Kerry's vetting list. Both Richardson and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack are scheduled to be at the DLC event. Recall also that Al Gore plucked a DLC leader, Sen. Joe Lieberman, as his running mate.

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