December 16, 2007

Kevin Martin's Contempt for the Public He Serves

As I wrote earlier this week in The Arrogance of Kevin Martin, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (F.C.C.) went before the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday. As expected, he was grilled thoroughly by the senators, and as expected, he - for all intents and purposes - gave them the finger in response to their questions about his efforts to relax media ownership rules. What was perhaps at least somewhat unexpected however, was the petulant, and transparently dishonest nature of some of his testimony.

Senator John Kerry requested that Mr. Martin postpone his vote on media ownership, saying: "You're about to make a decision with no understandable rationale against the interests of Congress. Would you agree today in the face of those realities, to postpone this decision from several days from now?"

The F.C.C. chief's reply? "No."

Senator Kerry further queried the F.C.C. chair about working toward a unified view on media ownership within the Commission (of the five commissioners, the two Democrats oppose Martin's plan). Apparently rooting his answer in the "It's my ball and we're going to play my way" school of leadership, the chairman responded, "I am not convinced that we would ever reach a consensus on media ownership. I think it is just too politically divisive."

Senator Claire McCaskill asked Mr. Martin why, in the face of a recent report that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found the F.C.C. unprepared to manage the coming full switch to digital television, he is focusing his energies on media ownership. Martin, apparently channeling an adolescent in mid-huff, replied "I think without funds, we are doing a very good job of educating consumers."

Senator Jay Rockefeller - who is championing retroactive amnesty for telecommunications companies that broke the law in allowing the Bush Administration to illicitly spy on Americans - was not above injecting some irony into the proceedings. The F.C.C., he stated, "appears to be more concerned about making sure the policies they advocate serve the needs of the companies they regulate and their bottom lines rather than the public interest." Senator Rockefeller went on to threaten new legislation next year to "addresses the structure of the agency, its mission, the terms of the commissioners, and how to make the agency a better regulator, advocate for consumers and a better resource for Congress." A good idea; were that he were such a passionate advocate for the people in the case of illegal surveillance.

But perhaps the most telling moment came when the head of the F.C.C. revealed his fundamental mendacity - his craven corruption and utter contempt for the citizenry he is charged with serving - in saying this: "We have an obligation to make sure that local news gathering is robust." Simply expressed, nothing has been of greater detriment to the diversity and health of local news than media consolidation. Kevin Martin knows that, and not only doesn't he care, he has the audacity to trot out his hypocrisy as some sort of justification and demand that we like it.

In the closing days of the GOP-controlled 109th Congress, the lame duck Senate, in what can only be considered an act of spite in response to the drubbing handed them by voters, confirmed Kevin Martin for a full five-year term. In his George W. Bush-like conviction that he knows best and can do as he pleases - irrespective of the common will or basic facts - he is far too dangerous and far too beholden to interests other than the public's to be allowed to serve it out.

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