The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News show some terrible news judgment today, burying news that FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker is jumping ship to Comcast less than four months after voting to approve the company’s controversial purchase of NBC Universal.
The Journal stuffs a brief inside the Marketplace section. Bloomberg only bothers to give it 124 words (Update: Bloomberg did write a longer story on Baker’s move, but it was only available for terminal subscribers. For our purposes that means it’s buried for all but those who have $20,000-a-year terminals).
The Washington Post is somewhat less bad, giving it 400-plus words but burying it on A18 and going with wire copy.
Baker could barely wait till for the ink to dry on the $30 billion deal, which it’s hard to imagine could possibly be good for anybody but Comcast. Read John Dunbar in CJR, Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times, and me for background on why the deal is a bad idea.
But the immediate story is what Baker’s move says about the ethical rot in our governing class and the ease with which they move back and forth between regulating companies and working for them, even after the Obama administration toughened rules on lobbying after leaving the government. Baker isn’t going to work for Comcast in the finance department, and of course she’s not going there to come to your house between 12 and 4 to fix your cable box. She’s going to lobby for Comcast itself, explicitly exploiting the connections and inside knowledge she’s collected in her powerful position.
And let’s face it, the four months timeline is too long. There had to be weeks or months of back and forth between Comcast and Baker over the job. If it’s not corrupt, it sure looks awfully bad, as Mike Masnick says, writing that this kind of move “makes people trust our government less and highlights why so many people believe that our government is corrupt.”
If it’s not outright corruption like an explicit quid pro quo—and it almost surely isn’t (though we’ll never know, which is much of Masnick’s point)—it is a form of soft corruption that entangles regulators’ own interests with those of companies they regulate. The type of person who would consider cashing in with a company or industry they regulate is going to be much less likely to be tough on them. If they’re too tough, they won’t find a job. You think Neil Barofsky was getting offers from Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein?
Which is why it’s so important that the press cover moves like Baker’s vigorously and prominently.
The LA Times’s own Andrew Breitba… uh, I mean, Malcolm tosses off this lede to smear the whole press:
This is one of those stories that doesn’t attract much attention from the factories that produce the news consumed by millions across this country.
That’s lazy. Again, the NYT and FT fronted stories on the news, while Reuters gave it 600-plus words. Malcolm’s own Los Angeles Times goes with 400 words, though I don’t know where it placed it (UPDATE: The reporter, Joe Flint, tells me it got prominent play on the third business page). The Associated Press covered it, too.
Malcolm blames Obama, naturally, for the Republicans’ pick for the FCC going to work for Comcast. That’s awfully misleading.
The FT also misleads on that, reporting that Baker is an Obama appointee but not reporting that she’s a Republican picked by Republicans to fill one of their two spots on the FCC.
It’s not like Obama picks haven’t gone through the revolving door. But most Republican politicians (not to be confused with most Republican voters) are happy to have corporate interests run the government. Democratic ones (not to be confused with Democratic voters) are slightly more likely to at least profess their discomfort.
The question now: Which FCC commissioner will go to AT&T after it inevitably approves its purchase of T-Mobile, and how long will they wait?
Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.
Tags: Comcast, Deals, Media Consolidation, Revolving Door, Soft Corruption