Media watchdog not surprised or upset by Comcast FCC hire


Art Brodsky of watchdog Public Knowledge sees that a lot of people have gotten their knickers in a bunch over the sudden move from the FCC 8th Floor to a big Washington DC office at Comcast/NBCU by soon-to-be former Commissioner Meredith Baker. But he says the whole thing really isn’t that big a deal.

In an article published on the Huffington Post, Brodsky noted that there is absolutely nothing new about individuals moving from the regulators to the regulated – and 99% of the time, nobody says a word about it.
Often, the fish swimming from one to the other are at a very high level – case in point, making the move at just about the same time as Baker is former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), taking a job with a DC law firm to lobby among his former colleagues.

Broadcasters know very well that they have a former senator in their employ in the person of Gordon Smith (R-OR). Former House Communications Subcommittee Chair Rick Boucher (D-VA), defeated in 2010 (part of the reason his successor at Communications is only a ranking member) also has recently returned to work at a Washington firm.

Brodsky said that there was nothing untoward about Baker’s vote on Comcast – the generic Republican attitude toward mergers are that they are good for business and if it’s good for business it’s good for America and she’s a Republican.

Now if anti-consolidation leader Michael Copps had suddenly been pushing for the merger to go through – and then just as suddenly received a good job from the merged entity – then you’d have something. That sort of this would be clear evidence of coercion.

Brodsky says there are so many former legislators and regulators around that there are enough to go around – everybody seems to have one and they tend to cancel one another out.

He wrote, “With so many former FCCers around, there’s a real question about the value they bring to their employers. By taking her leave so quickly without a decompression/career-laundering period of six months or so at a think tank, Baker undoubtedly lowered her value to Comcast. Her legacy now will be bolting the Commission to go to Comcast and creating a mini-scandal, regardless of whether she followed the letter of the admittedly lax rules on such things.” He added that the value of her FCC experience and her FCC contacts will fade as the staff there turns over.

The bottom line, he wrote, is that she is going from being part of a very exclusive five-member group to just another lobbyist in a city that is full of them.

RBR-TVBR observation: Is this a “great minds” situation? We made this exact point last week – Baker was predisposed to support the Comcast/NBCU merger because of who she is – a Republican – not because she thought that her support might further her career. Comcast had no need to lift a finger to gain her support.

Brodsky is correct in supposing that if anything, the Baker hiring is not the best thing Comcast could have done. It’s a PR bust and negative publicity magnet; Comcast is getting a lobbyist shackled with regulatory restraints; and it may well have fanned the flames of efforts to rein in lobbyists and the government/industry revolving door.