Through The Wire: As Certain as Death and Cable Taxes


Cable unwittingly became part of the debate over nextyear's federal budget and Republicans' push for tax cuts. House Republicans announced anational campaign last week to alert American workers that they pay too much tax, withHouse Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) unveiling a laundry list of tax items that mostAmericans are apparently oblivious to. At a Capitol Hill press conference, Armeyillustrated the hidden nature of one tax by pointing to a TV set brought in as a prop andnoting that when Americans arrive home at night and "decide to spend the nightwatching sports on ESPN, they pay a cable tax." Armey did not say whether he wastargeting local franchise fees, gross-receipt taxes, or FCC user fees. "We never meta tax we didn't want to cut. If it's a tax on cable goods, we'll do it," Armey presssecretary Jim Wilkinson said.

"Captain Outrageous" strikes again: In a bizarrecomparison, Ted Turner, in his CAB Cable Advertising Conference luncheon speech last week,likened his earliest cable ad salespeople to the victims of D-Day in Saving PrivateRyan. Recalling how difficult it was to convince national advertisers to buy time,he exclaimed, "Boy, you clients are tough!"

Filings from the Clinton legal-defense fund show that BETpresident and CEO Bob Johnson must mean it when he says that President Clinton is hisfriend. According to records released by the fund, Johnson maxed out by giving $10,000to help the Clinton family pay nearly $9 million in legal bills that they accumulatedto fight Paula Jones, Ken Starr and House Republicans bent on kicking Clinton out ofoffice. Other members of the 10K club were investment banker Steven Rattner and former TCIboard member Tony Coelho.

If the less-than-current fave heartthrob "himbo"group New Kids on the Block shows up in the top 10 on MTV's Total Request, the Wirehas your explanation. An e-mail chain letter making the rounds urges viewers to floodMTV with calls March 10, swamping the board with requests for NKOTB's video, "Hangin'Tough." The mailers apparently think that it would be the height of anarchy toget an off-the-radar-screen band into the mix for the day. An MTV spokesman said requestsfor the show are submitted by e-mail, phone and fax, mostly from suggested videos listedon its Web site. The prank could succeed, but they'd have to muster a lot of responses,and "it's our experience that the ones that make the cut come from our list."

Thousands of big-dish satellite viewers who subscribe toEast Coast distant-network signals got a surprise last Wednesday night, as they tried totune in to Barbara Walters' interview with Monica Lewinsky on ABC affiliate WKRN ofNashville, Tenn. Hapless viewers got back-to-back Nightline instead of Monicaand Baba Wawa. For the duration of the two-hour interview, WKRN was ordered to switchits feed to PrimeTime 24, which distributes distant-network signals to C-band subscribers.According to WKRN, the move was made in an attempt to honor Lewinsky's contract with ABC,which didn't authorize non-U.S. viewing of the interview.

By Linda Haugsted, from bureau reports.