Latest Mega-Merger: CBS and Colombian Government

Hot on the heels of its acquisition of Viacom, the Columbia Broadcasting System announced today that it has merged with the government of Colombia.

"This opens the Latin American market to our primetime programming," declared Lawrence Tisch, CBS's ecstatic CEO. "At last, my Colombian amigos will discover why Everybody Loves Raymundo and the joy of being Touched By An Angel."

Colombian President Andres Pastrana was equally enthused. "My government's propaganda themes will carry great weight when coming from the mouths of respected journalists such as Dan Rather and Mike Wallace," he said. "The days of Colombians begging and pleading for every last billion in U.S. military aid are over."

Tisch said CBS would bow to Latin sensitivities and adopt the Spanish spelling of Colombia. The new behemoth will call itself Colombia Government BS.

Tisch and Pastrana expect swift FTC approval. "After all," said Pastrana, "it was the Clinton administration -- in particular, Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey -- that brought us together."

With his stern countenance and close-cropped hair, McCaffrey appears an unlikely Cupid. In fact, he's played matchmaker for years, fixing up pretty-but-poor media outlets with the big-spending Office of National Drug Control Policy. The result has been beautiful, mutually rewarding relationships and the delivery of an important message to teens: Stay away from dangerous drugs (except for the ones heavily advertised in the media).

"Last summer I was alarmed by the growing strength of Colombia's Marxist rebels," said McCaffrey. Working with key Colombian generals, he developed a public relations campaign to persuade the U.S. Congress and public to triple military aid to the potentially oil-rich nation.

"The idea," said McCaffrey, "was to play up the drug war and play down the civil war, portray the guerrillas as 'narcoterrorists' by exaggerating their role in and take from the drug trade, and keep quiet about official drug corruption and army ties to paramilitary death squads."

A tall order. "I expected cooperation from the U.S. media -- which we've gotten -- but I doubted that would be enough," said the drug czar. "What we really needed was a network of our own."

When McCaffrey saw a news item in July about CBS's low ratings and lower profits, he immediately phoned Tisch and explained how the network could reap a Latin windfall. Tisch was all aglow, and he asked the drug czar to arrange a meeting with Pastrana. But Pastrana played hard to get, saying he first wanted to see how CBS could help Colombia before he'd agree to talk marriage.

Tisch dispatched news anchor Dan Rather to Bogota with orders to make Pastrana's day. Using such time-honored techniques as reliance on official sources and repetition of disinformation as fact, Rather did just that.

"Dan's stories were a godsend," said Pastrana. "The propaganda was all the more effective for having come from a seemingly independent 'reporter.'"

Next, Tisch sent 60 Minutes tough guy Mike Wallace to glorify the Colombian president. The resultant December 5 puff profile put the aid proposal on the fast track and Pastrana in the mood to deal. Negotiations ensued, culminating in the accord signed today.

The industry has taken notice. Fox and Disney-ABC have intensified their wooing of China, and CNN top dog Ted Turner reportedly has the hots for the Virgin Islands.

Back at the news division of Colombia Government BS, any initial merger misgivings quickly subsided when Rather and company learned they would be "double dippers," drawing fat salaries both as journalists and official spinners.

"I'm just doing what I've always done: putting white hats on our guys, black hats on theirs," said Rather. "It's the contras and the Sandinistas all over again -- only now I'm getting my just reward. When you serve two masters, you should get paid by two masters."

"The business of news is business," said Wallace. "And business is good."

Dennis Hans is a freelance writer and an occasional adjunct professor of American foreign policy and mass communications at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.

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