NEW YORK (AP) – Anxious Americans can rest a little easier.

In this age of potty-mouthed talk radio and Super Bowl breast-baring, the U.S. Senate rose to the occasion this week with a measure aimed at punishing media miscreants with stiffer-than-ever fines.

If that proposal becomes law, it will surely guarantee us safety from the Howard Sterns and Janet Jacksons of the world.

Who isn’t feeling better already?

But maybe the cure isn’t wrapping a “Sanitized for Your Protection” strip around the toilet bowl many people think the media have become. Maybe this crackdown on media indecency is just an artful dodge to distract the public from the underlying cause: government-assisted media consolidation.

“It’s not like Janet Jackson’s nipple is the only problem with our media system,” says media scholar and activist Robert W. McChesney. “It’s not like if Howard Stern had never been born, our media system would be great.

“They are both emblematic of problems that go far beyond that.”

McChesney, a professor at the University of Illinois, has recently published a book that shines needed light on how the media really operate.

While it might not be your first choice to carry to the beach, “The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communication Politics in the 21st Century” is highly readable and jammed with “aha” moments. Bolstered by scholarship. it’s a treasury of common-sense insights that puncture common assumptions.

For instance: The enduring notion that the media are liberal.Why should (and how could) the media be liberal, McChesney counters, when even the largest media outlets are only small pieces of ever-expanding conglomerates committed, above all, to stockholders’ approval and the bottom line? As with any for-profit enterprise, the bigger Big Media grows, the more conservative it tends to be.

Another misconception: That media deregulation would restore the media ecology to its natural state of equilibrium.

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