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Jim Hightower ALAN POGUE Fired By a Rodent? Was Tim Hightower Exterminated by Mickey Mouse or Just Big Money? BY MICHAEL KING JIM HIGHTOWER WILL NOT be silenced. That’s where we should begin, although, as most Observer readers know by now, Hightower’s nationally syndicated, weekly talk show was canceled in midSeptember by the ABC Radio network. As ABC tells it, only insufficient ratings were behind the decision to cancel the show, which was broadcast on some one hundred and fifty stations nationwide, to an audience of approximately two million listeners. Frank Raphael, ABC’s vice president for programming, told the Observer, “I terminated this show for lack of audience.” Hightower responded that his audience and station-count, accumulated in about a year and a half, was by the network’s own admission already larger than either Rush Limbaugh or Gordon Liddy had acquired for their shows in a similar period. More to the immediate point, Hightower reports that ABC management, and particularly Raphael, had been completely supportive of the show until August 1, 1995the day that Capital Cities/ABC and The Walt Disney Company announced that Disney would be purchasing Capital Cities/ABC and merging the two corporations. Raphael says that Hightower is entitled to his “mistaken perception,” but that it’s simply not true. The merger did provide a handy phrase to describe the way ABC handled the subsequent Hightower dismissal: it was mickey-mouse. Following the merger announcement, Hightower says, there was no communication from his bosses that the show might be in trouble. But the ABC staff assigned to work with the show in effect “physically withdrew” from the program. The network immediately stopped doing its jobattempting to recruit new stations for the programand when ABC’s staffer in charge of that task departed, ABC made no attempt to replace her. So when ABC now says that the show was not acquiring stations, it’s hard to take the complaint seriously. Raphael counters that he took personal charge of station acquisition, and “it became unpleasantly evident to me that the future for this show was quite limited.” But at first, the only one talking was Hightower. A committed critic of global corporate power, Hightower had already taken shots at both Disney and his ABC bosses in the past. \(See “Hightower Speaks much of the talk to cracks about Disney \(“I cussions of the inevitable effects of the merger \(“It’s going to be Top-40 radio also opposed the corporation-friendly telecommunications legislation then under consideration in Congress \(strongly supHightower, the merger and the new laws were the direct result of the increasing concentration of corporate wealth and power, particularly as it affects the lifeblood of democracy: the free-flow of information. In an extended interview with the Observer last month, Hightower summarized the current media situation: “Now these conglomerates, who have no allegiances, no understanding of journalism, and no imagination of their democratic responsibilities to provide a diversity of viewpoints, [and who don’t acknowledge] that citizens need to find out what’s going on in their own countrywill decide the news, will decide the information and the viewpoint that gets across. I’m willing to say it’s not even malicious; it’s the ‘all the news that fits’ syndrome…’ why this just doesn’t fit’ …’ nobody cares about this’… who would want to hear about this?’because they don’t care about it, and they don’t want to hear about it.” Hightower soon had his suspicions confirmed: Hightower Radio “just didn’t fit” into the future of Disney/ABC. Although Hightower remains quick to praise Raphael and his earlier support”he was committed to the message I was putting out, and committed to the long-term growth of the show”a few weeks after the merger, he says Raphael had become the “hit man” for Disney. At first there were rumors and hints. Hightower, who had been ABC’s featured favorite at the 1994 convention of The National Association of Broadcasters, mysteriously was not even invited to the 1995 convention. Then, on September 12, five weeks after his anti-merger show, Hightower was “offed”told that the show would be canceled as of November 5. At that point, ABC’s behavior descended from mickey-mouse to, as Hightower puts it, “chickenshit.” The staff had been told that the cancellation would not be announced until November, but negative stories immediately began appearing in the national press. During the following show \(Septemlocal stations that this was in fact the last week for the show. The immediate cancellation was confirmed by ABC later that week. “I was not even allowed to go on the air to THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5