Free Press’ schizophrenic relationship with the FCC

Mike Riggs Contributor
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Consumers who don’t want neo-Marxists and big government types determining where and how they get their news can breathe a small sigh of relief: Free Press, the anti-capitalist media reform group that has infiltrated the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, is on a mission to burn every bridge it built between the anti-capitalist ideology of Robert McChesney and a once-sympathetic Obama administration.

“This is what a failed democracy looks like,” wrote Tim Karr, the public face of Free Press, just last week. “After years of avid public support for net neutrality – involving millions of people from across the political spectrum – the federal regulator quietly huddles with industry lobbyists to eliminate basic protections and serve Wall Street’s bottom line.”

Karr was referring to meeting that the FCC held with Verizon, AT&T, Google and other representatives of the communications industry that Free Press would like to see the FCC regulate. While it’s SOP for regulators to meet and greet the people they’ll be, well, regulating, Karr didn’t see it that way.

“The one agency tasked with oversight of communications now thinks it can wriggle free of its obligation to protect the open internet, if only it can get industry to agree on a solution,” Karr wrote on Save the Internet, Free Press’s advocacy site. “In Chairman [Julius] Genachowski’s alternative view of reality, though, the public is immaterial, and industry consensus supreme.”

To get a sense of just how significant Karr’s statement is, consider this: Genachowski was, up until very recently, the closest thing Free Press had to a paladin. President Obama chose the former attorney specifically because he promised to cater to far-left proponents of net neutrality. Genachowski earned his keep by helping write Obama’s net neutrality platform in 2008, a time when the debate over regulating broadband access was still taking place deep in the industry weeds. After being confirmed, Genachowski even hired former Free Press staffer Jen Howard as his spokesperson.

A year into Genachowski’s tenure, Free Press has gone from begging for bones to rabidly biting the hand that feeds them, even going so far as to make stuff up. Karr’s tirade against Genachowski for denying Free Press access to the closed-door meeting with telecommunications insiders? Pure smoke. According to a story Politico ran last week, “Free Press is still taking part in those very meetings through the Open Internet Coalition, of which it is a member. Others point out it was Free Press that hit up the White House at the end of 2009 to meet with key administration officials ahead of the FCC’s initial inquiry on net neutrality.”

This isn’t a stand-alone fib, however. See if you can keep the dates straight on this doozy: Before the group claimed it had been denied entrance to the FCC gathering, Free Press claimed on June 21 that the advocacy group had been invited to a congressional telecommunications overhaul meeting to be held June 25. Perhaps in an effort to drum up sympathy, Rose contacted reporters that same day and denied that Free Press had been invited to the meeting. On June 25, the day of the meeting, National Journal released the list of industry insiders and advocates who attended in an official capacity. Near the top of the list was Derek Turner of Free Press.

Was Free Press lying about being invited, or lying about not being invited? And does it really have it in for the FCC chairman?

After all, despite the harsh rhetoric, Free Press released a report on Tuesday rating Genachowski’s first year in office as “incomplete, needs work.” The chairman “has laid some of the groundwork needed to enact meaningful change, but now he must follow through with decisive action,” the report goes on to say.

A bit picayune compared to what Free Press’s Karr said of the chairman just last week.

“Burson Marsteller has tried to rescue reputations of Blackwater and Suharto regime. JG presents similar challenge,” Karr wrote on Twitter. A public relations monolith, Burson-Marsteller once had Blackwater as a client. An alumnus of the organization is now advising “JG” — Julius Genachowski.

While Free Press may still have some gas left in the tank, odds are it won’t get far comparing its closest ideological ally to a much derided mercenary group. Especially not when its own lobbying efforts — like the letter it signed protesting the NBC-Comcast merger — are coordinated by Glover Park Group, a firm every bit as “corporate” as Burson-Marsteller, and one that also claims Free Press “enemy” Verizon as a client.

So what explains Free Press’s schizophrenic relationship to Genachowski and the FCC?

According to Cato’s Jim Harper, “Free Press is throwing a lot into it, but they’re not very good at it.” Harper spoke to The Daily Caller in early June, before Free Press began simultaneously claiming that it had and had not been invited to certain events. While responding specifically to an April court ruling that struck down the FCC’s most notable attempt yet at instituting net neutrality regulation sans congressional input, Harper’s statements seem to hold true for Free Press’s current attempts at cowing the FCC into adopting its agenda, point for point.

“I sort of have the impression that there are a lot of people at Free Press who came to Washington because they believe in the Obama mantra of change,” Harper said. “But they don’t know how regulation works, that it’s complicated, and that the people who will be writing and crafting that policy are anticipating one day working in the telecom industry. Essentially, they’re walking into a bear trap.”