CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
Now it's time for a Wisdom Watch conversation. That's a part of the program where we talk to those who've made a difference with their work. Today we're talking with Clinton Galloway. He's the author of the book "Anatomy of a Hustle: Cable Comes to South Central L.A."
Back when cable was an up-and-coming technology, he and his brother Carl fought hard to bring cable television to low income communities in California. They hoped cable would provide educational programming and also bring some jobs to the area. But it turned into a battle that lasted more than a decade and eventually landed Clinton and Carl in the Supreme Court.
Clinton Galloway joins us from NPR West in Culver City, California. Welcome to the program.
CLINTON GALLOWAY: Thank you for having me.
HEADLEE: I think in this moment in time, Clinton, when many people have three, four, five different choices of cable companies to choose from, when you can go without cable completely and hook your computer straight up to your TV screen, it's hard to remember the era that we're talking about in which bringing cable to a community really meant a lot of different empowerment. What was the importance, for you at least, of bringing cable to South Central?
GALLOWAY: Well, my brother first saw that the value would be in providing superior educational opportunities and both medical and financial opportunities where people could learn more. But South Central was always without any real communication ability because they had no bookstores, movies or anything like that. And we saw it as an opportunity to really give them a chance to speak among themselves and to learn.
HEADLEE: Speak among themselves and learn? You mean like through community access channels?
GALLOWAY: Exactly. And having people who are from the community learn and give the community what it needed because the needs in South Central were different than the needs in Beverly Hills or West L.A.
HEADLEE: So, I mean it seems to me from the book that you didn't see - think it was going to be all that difficult. I mean except in terms of technical problems you didn't think it was going to be a really huge deal to go and get the permissions and the things that you needed to get done to bring cable to this community. Is that pretty accurate?
GALLOWAY: That's pretty accurate because...
HEADLEE: And then what you found out is that you ended up in a lot of meetings with a lot of people.
GALLOWAY: We ended up in a lot of meetings with a lot of people because we had to go to the city to find out what the bureaucratic process was to seek a license. And the people who we were referred to were the ones who began to tell us that we had to give them part of the company in order for us to do business here. And they were employees of the city and councilmen there.
HEADLEE: And many of them were African-American. You were stopped at every turn by politicians, sometimes completely out of nowhere, many of them were black. And you talk in the book about what you call the myth of black leadership. Explain what you mean.
GALLOWAY: Well, we have gone on for so many years continually electing the same people and they move from office to office, from Senate to Congress, to assemblymen to councilmen, but they are not providing the support and the kind of information that we need as a community to better ourselves. It's a myth that they are working for us because they are not, in fact, working for us. They allow the economic factors that are necessary in any community to go absent in South Central and in many minority urban areas.
HEADLEE: And you point out in your book that many of these people - oftentimes men - have actually grown up during the era of the civil rights movement. Was it a surprise to you to see these same people blocking your progress?
GALLOWAY: It was really a shock to find it out because, you know, you read so much about people like Tom Bradley and various collected officials...
HEADLEE: The mayor. The former mayor of Los Angeles.
GALLOWAY: The former mayor of Los Angeles. And then you find out what really goes on is so different and the people are so different than they have been portrayed in media that you're surprised. You know, we had looked up to Tom Bradley for many years until we actually met him and he started throwing threats around to us of who we had to give money to to do business. And I thought that was so low for a mayor to do that it seemed outrageous.
HEADLEE: And you ended up in this battle for your cable franchise. It ultimately led to a number of lawsuits. And then, as I said, in the Supreme Court, taking on issues of free speech and antitrust, and you won in the Supreme Court. So what happened when you tried to take that ruling back to California?
GALLOWAY: Well, we had received a unanimous ruling from the United States Supreme Court that in fact the cable television was going on for a public right-of-way, like newspapers do, and to restrict the access of that right-of-way to only one company was a violation.
HEADLEE: So what do you see, I mean you must see parallels now in terms of access to say, cell phone towers and access to the Internet. What kind of lessons did you learn - or maybe society has not learned - about public access?
GALLOWAY: Well, the public access was really cut out after they became deregulated, so to speak. But what's happened is we've seen a continuing consolidation of media. One company who has a cable television system may own 15 other channels that are on that system. So you have basically six companies in the United States that are controlling 90 percent of the media. That is a danger to democracy because you can't get valid information when there are so few people to give out the information and to spread it in small communities.
HEADLEE: And yet, Clinton, the argument is always made that because that they have, you know, kind of a larger business, they are able to provide these services at lower prices and that make that possible for people in low income areas to get services they may not have been able to get from a boutique company or a smaller company. What's your answer to that?
GALLOWAY: That's absolutely fallacious. They are charging more because they have a monopoly. There are still basically one cable system in every area. You know, now the telephone companies are trying to compete, satellite is trying to compete. But the primary companies that provide this service are cable and when they are able to tell you that you have to take channels that you don't want, they're raising your bill. If they didn't do that and you have competition to compete for that price it would be different.
HEADLEE: What would you have done - I mean was there anything that you could have done differently? Your book reads like a really insider look at government corruption to where it almost feels like there's nothing you could have done differently. But I wonder if you feel the same way.
GALLOWAY: I don't think there was anything we could have done differently. We could have accepted the payoff they offered us for a couple of million dollars but once you start selling out it's only a matter of price and your principles have compromised. I didn't see anything else we could do. We tried to work with everybody. We went through the federal court system and a federal judge was able to negate the United States Supreme Court and hold our case and say later that yes, you're right and the Supreme Court was right, but we didn't need a district court to tell us that the Supreme Court was right, that's why they're the Supreme Court.
HEADLEE: This segment is called Wisdom Watch. So I wonder if there is some real deeper wisdom that you took away from this that was positive that they have helped you?
GALLOWAY: Well, I think so. One, I understand how government really works for one thing. But I see that cable television is being eroded as they eroded broadcast with Internet. An Internet over the next two or three years will fundamentally dominate the distribution of information and those who are interested in getting involved with that need to get involved right now with the Internet, and it requires an investment. And that investment has to be made within communities and to provide the information that's necessary in those communities. So there's a good change coming about with the Internet.
HEADLEE: Well, you're telling people to get involved with the Internet. What exactly do you mean?
GALLOWAY: I mean by programming. You know, there are various methods of programming in the Internet, creating stations on the Internet and providing sources for the output that is created in places like Los Angeles. We have plenty of people here who could provide programming but the distribution is controlled by the few companies, and therefore the programming is limited.
HEADLEE: So you're telling everybody to go out there, take a camera and make their own YouTube channel.
GALLOWAY: No. I'm saying that on a larger basis we need to address the issues of urban minority communities through that. But, yes, you can go out and see things and go to small council hearings and go to hearings that they have and show people what really goes on when the government talks about what they're doing for economic development, for example. You know, they are doing nothing.
HEADLEE: Well, government transparency is always a good thing, I think. Clinton Galloway, author of "Anatomy of a Hustle: Cable Comes to South Central L.A." he joined us from our studios at NPR West in Culver City, California.
Thank you so much.
GALLOWAY: Thank you for having me, Celeste. It's been a pleasure.
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HEADLEE: And that's our program for today. I'm Celeste Headlee. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We'll talk more tomorrow.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.