Comcast Keeps Scolding Me For Calling Its Top Lobbyist A Lobbyist

from the a-rose-by-any-other-name dept

Last summer I noted that Comcast’s PR department pretty consistently now sends me snotty e-mail “corrections.” Not about any of the thousands of articles Techdirt or I have written about the company’s abysmal customer service, punitive usage caps, ridiculously high prices, or obnoxiously anti-competitive behavior mind you, but to scold me for one and only one thing: calling the company’s top lobbyist a lobbyist.

You see, despite the fact that Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen spends the majority of his time trying to influence state and federal regulators (he was the lead salesman of the NBC and Time Warner Cable mergers), Comcast calls him the company’s “Chief Diversity Officer.” That’s because updated 2007 lobbying reporting rules require that if an employee spends more than 20% of their time lobbying in DC, they have to register with the government as a lobbyist, detail their travel with lawmakers, and more fully outline their contributions to politicians and their myriad foundations.

As a result, Cohen — and thousands of other lobbyists — simply started calling themselves something else. And ever since Comcast started complaining, I’ve of course felt compelled to refer to him as a lobbyist as often as possible. I did so again last week when I wrote a blog entry noting that Cohen saw a notable contract extension and pay raise despite his failure to get the company’s Time Warner Cable deal approved. Not too surprisingly, Comcast spokesperson Sena Fitzmaurice was quick to reach out and scold me, for what I believe is now the third time:

I know I may be not worth asking, but could you use factual information in your pieces? It is factually incorrect to say that ?David Cohen spend the lion?s share of his time pushing Comcast in policy circles just like any other lobbyist.? That is just not true. To be true, David would have to spend the lion?s share of his time in Washington, DC ? which he doesn?t. It would have the be the lion?s share of his responsibilities which it isn?t. Your belittling of the serious time he devotes to his Chief Diversity Officer duties is insulting, it isn?t tap dancing around a legal rule. Our workforce is 59% diverse, our 2014 hires were 69% diverse, and David expends considerable time to his commitment as Chief Diversity officer.”

And while the Comcast HR department’s dedication to diversity is admirable, Cohen’s primary claim to “diversity” fame is his creation of “Internet Essentials,” a piece of regulator bait Cohen used to seal the NBC Universal deal to the FCC and DOJ. Crafted as a merger condition by Comcast itself, Internet Essentials is supposed to offer low-income users who qualify for the nation’s school lunch program $10 broadband for a limited time. Of course when initially released, the poor people Cohen so adores actually protested on the streets of Philadelphia, arguing that the project was a PR stunt that, in reality, was hard to qualify and sign up for.

Cohen and Comcast use Internet Essentials as a public relations and lobbying weapon to highlight the company’s incredible altruism at every conceivable opportunity. Cohen’s cherub-esque visage can often be seen standing among smiling children at what’s an endless series of PR junkets. That I doubt the purity of these efforts by arguably the least-liked company in America is most likely some kind of defect in my character, I’ll be the first to admit.

But Fitzmaurice continued, lecturing me on the fact that Comcast actually did a wonderful job at adhering to the more than 150 flimsy NBC merger conditions, most of which Comcast itself created:

“Further, your continued insistence that Comcast hasn?t adhered to the more than 150 conditions of the NBCUniversal transaction by the FCC and the DOJ consent decree belies the facts. In the nearly 5 years since the transaction was concluded, the FCC has taken 1 action on a merger condition, and that was over 3 years ago. That means the FCC has not had enforcement issues with about 150 other conditions. That hardly seems like ?failed utterly to adhere to merger conditions.? Other than on that one issue of standalone broadband marketing, which was resolved and the consent decree on that issue itself has expired, the FCC and the DOJ have not taken actions on violations of conditions or the consent decree.”

And that’s technically true. The only wrist slap Comcast got was a $600 million fine from the FCC for hiding a $50 a month standalone broadband option it had promised to offer. But the fact that the FCC couldn’t be bothered to enforce the NBC merger conditions says more about the FCC than anything else. And indeed, the lion’s share of the conditions Comcast pats itself on its back for adhering to were utterly hollow, including things like adding “1,500 more titles to Comcast?s on-demand offerings for children.” Most of these show pony suggestions were suggested by Comcast because the company had already planned to accomplish them anyway as a matter of course, like expanding its broadband network to 400,000 additional homes.

Subsequent investigations found that Comcast violated the most meaningful conditions and was never held accountable for them, including promises not to meddle in the management of co-owned Hulu. And to reiterate, the company’s star NBC merger condition was so “successful” it resulted in public protests in the streets of Philadelphia. And indeed, numerous news outlets reported that Comcast’s failure to adhere to NBC Universal deal conditions played a major role in their rejection of the Time Warner Cable merger, causing regulators to even consider additional punishment beyond deal rejection. So yeah, factual information and all that.

After explaining this all to Comcast (again) I reminded the company I’m using the dictionary definition of the word lobbyist, and it may want to contact Random House and Merriam Webster with any future concerns. Still, I’m happy to use the powers of the Streisand effect and pen a blog post each and every time the company’s PR representatives feel like scolding me for semantic bullshit. There’s certainly a lot more to be said about the nation’s utterly pathetic lobbying rules that let most lobbyists like Cohen tap dance over, under, and around political influence reporting requirements.

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Companies: comcast

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Comments on “Comcast Keeps Scolding Me For Calling Its Top Lobbyist A Lobbyist”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Why won’t you support us rewriting reality to reflect our spin?
We promised all of these great things, so what if there were hiccups in actually delivering on them. We totally will get around to them about the time we are forced to by bad press, as our ‘friends’ in high places that we TOTALLY don’t “lobby” can’t protect us forever.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“My best guess was that percent diverse might mean percent non-white?”

Sort of. “Diversity” would mean anyone that fits any government-ordained “minority” status. These protected statuses can include not just race, but also women, handicapped, or white people of Spanish-speaking ancestry. Homosexuals and transexuals could soon be added to this list which continues to grow.

But if you are happen to be a white, English-speaking, heterosexual, able-bodied, non-elderly male, then you can and will be openly and legally discriminated against and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. That’s because it’s not just government-sanctioned disrimination, but in many cases government-mandated discrimination. (Well, maybe a little creative surgery can help fix that accident of birth that’s holding you back. 😉

radix (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Exactly. They are saying 41% of their workforce are anglo-American straight males. A group that makes up slightly less than 30% of the American population. That makes 2014 reflect reality, and not much more.
I’d guess that 28-30% of the population makes up a somewhat higher percentage of the workforce, which makes Comcast better at this than many (most?) other companies, but it’s hardly a superhuman effort.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Although I’m white, I have juuuuuuuust enough Native American in my ancestry that Louisiana would require me to call myself Native American on state forms.

Would they really require it? It’s been optional everywhere I’ve seen such questions asked, and I’ve always declined to answer. And often such questions ask more about self-identification rather than ancestry per se.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

It’s not required… unless you piss off someone with a bit of authority. Then they use the slightest thing to get back at you, and this is one of the easiest ways to do so in Louisiana. Some folks have been fired for “lying” on their employment forms for marking their race as “white” when they’re 1/32nd black, for example. They were fine until they pissed off the boss (or someone friends with the boss), then they were screwed. One even made it on one of those network shows… think it was 60 Minutes. Louisiana has all kinds of weird problems like that.

I suppose that not answering would be better than putting an answer that turned out to be wrong. Of course, you could make your answers a bit more “fun” – like writing “50 m dash” for race. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Wah wah.

If you’re a white boy, just use your white boy superpowers.
The world is still a meritocracy, no matter what the government wants you to do. If you got bumped from the Harvard acceptance list ’cause someone with slightly lower scores had different ancestry, it just means you weren’t better enough.

Seriously, leave the “I’m a victim of discrimination!” whining to other people. They don’t understand how corrosive it is to the soul and one’s personal power.
Don’t corrode your soul. Take matters into your own hands.

Admittedly, bankers and corporate socialism are rigging the game, but rigging the game is part of the game. If you don’t like it (and I don’t), then accumulate enough genuine power to change it. No excuses.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

A meritocracy? Where the hell are you living?

Most jobs I’ve had are like sick parodies of Dilbert cartoons, with hilariously incompetent, fast tracked ‘managers’ and ‘supervisors’ and ‘quality directors’, one or two DECENT bosses constantly a hair’s breadth away from snapping because they have to do the work of like 8 people, and a ton of poor bastards desperately trying to meet often mutually exclusive goals for far less pay than the cost of their inevitable blood pressure pills.

Friends with the right guy? Get that new job. Bullshit your way through or pass off your work to appear always ahead of the game? Fast tracked. Happen to already be wealthy enough to hang out with the important crowd? You’ve ‘made connections’.

And in case you think I am talking sour grapes… I mean crack in the bathrooms, netflix and youtube with their feet up while we are SWAMPED with work denying manager calls or responsibilites (I know because I saw their screen in a reflection more than often enough), telling us to do downright illegal things to increase productivity (more than once requiring me to escalate things massively to avoid bad practices going through).

The truth of the matter is a COUPLE of the hard working labor intensive useful people manage to move up, and the rest… don’t have ‘connections’. Highschool never ended. The bullies and rich kids just got more power.

~Have Fun!~

Oh, and if you think rigging the game is part of the game, then fuck you. No, seriously. Heaven forbid someone have enough damn ethics not to be able to advance upon the powdered skulls of genuine people around them.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The world is still a meritocracy, no matter what the government wants you to do.

Yeah all those poor people around the world, well they deserve it. They’re just not good enough to have regular access to things like clean drinking water and medicine. Not like us awesome people in the US who totally earned everything we have because we’re so awesome.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Our workforce is 59% diverse, our 2014 hires were 69% diverse, and David expends considerable time to his commitment as Chief Diversity officer.”

That means that 61% of Comcast’s workforce is homogeneous… that’s a pretty tight cluster on “average”.

Or were they talking racial profiling and not performance diversity?

I agree… “diversity” means nothing if you don’t list the attributes you’re measuring diversity in. After all, I’ve got pretty diverse interests, and yet am a single human.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Actually to me, diversity would be an equal percentage of all ethnic backgrounds. So a diverse bag of M&Ms would be of equal amounts of red, yellow, blue, green, orange and brown. But the same could be said of a bag of special Valentine’s M&Ms which would be just white, red, and pink.

So all in all, diversity could be pretty meaningless no matter what. Perhaps Comcast just doesn’t hire those damn Innsmouth people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Fitzmaurice is airing so much on the side of caution in her use of words that what she is saying doesn’t hold any meaning lest causing a factual discussion.

That way of speaking is good political damage-control, but is causing increased hostility from people with enough knowledge of the facts behind her words.

Propaganda and spin doesn’t work when you don’t want to spill any facts. On the other hand, this may also be a legal speak warning of the type: “We are watching you and if your use of facts are as biased as now, we are prepared to sue when you reach too far”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 a question

In North Carolina, it’s totally legal to hire whores as lobbyists. I mean, it was a pretty standard piece of the lobbying package already, along with wining, dining, and airfare. But now they can be hired as “lobbyists” for the sole purpose of sexing senators.

This is why you can’t have self-regulating legislatures. They just gerrymander the rules.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: To be a lobbyist he HAS to be in DC?

In that same quote, there’s also a problem with the use of “lion’s share,” aka the largest portion. Even if lobbying did mean time spent exclusively in DC, Fitzmaurice’s statement doesn’t explicitly say that Cohen isn’t a lobbyist: he could spend 51% of his time on diversity and 49% in DC. That isn’t the lion’s share, but it’s damn well over the 20% required to be a lobbyist.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: To be a lobbyist he HAS to be in DC?

I think the term “lion’s share” was made in the spirit of the origin: when a pride of lions (almost all female or younger males) make a kill, the lion comes in and gorges until he can’t possibly eat any more, then the others get the scraps left over. Just change “kill” to a political or business deal, and the meat to money.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Let me get this straight

He’s saying that the lobbyist David Cohen lobbies on behalf of Comcast, as well as lobbying for David Cohen.

The cable lobby, managed in a large part by David Cohen, lobbies both government entities as well as lobbying lobbyists to promote David Cohen’s lobby points on behalf of Comcast and other industry lobby groups.

But he’s not saying that David Cohen is a Federal Lobbyist, as he’d need to be registered for that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Lobbyist? Who's that?

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

TechDescartes (profile) says:

Employment Agreement

So in Section 8(b)(iv) of Cohen’s latest employment agreement, I suspect Comcast is relying on the dictionary definition of “lobbyist” and not the statutory definition:

[S]ubparagraph (i) above restricts Employee from working on the account, or otherwise for the benefit, of a Competitive Business as a result of Employee’s working as an employee, consultant or in any other capacity for an entity that provides consulting, advisory, lobbying or similar services to other businesses.

Please ask, Karl. The people want to know.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Employment Agreement

It seems they’re arguing that David Cohen is oh so much more than just a lobbyist, so Karl should focus on his other work.

Similarly, I’m oh so much more than just a father. But it doesn’t change the fact that at the end of the day, I’ll give up pretty much everything else in my life to protect/help my kids. And anyone talking about me as my children’s father isn’t going to get a nastygram pointing out that I spend an inordinate amount of time writing comments on TechDirt for someone they’re claiming is “a father to my kids”.

So why is he so ashamed to have the lobbying part of his job mentioned when he is observed to be performing it? Is it just because he failed, and got a bonus (potentially for the other tasks he’s been doing outside of lobbying)?

Then why didn’t they say that instead of saying virtually nothing of substance?

You can ask that too, Karl 🙂

tqk (profile) says:

Chief Diversity Officer

There is so much “fail” in her complaint, it’s ridiculous. Whereas most of us have to actually work for our paycheck, care about the quality that we produce, care about customer satisfaction with what we’re selling, she can’t even be bothered to proofread her response, and this is “Public Relations” speaking!

The very idea they need a “Chief Diversity Officer” says to me they’ve in the past been execrable at this, round-filing applications from anyone who isn’t white male.

That they think adding a “Chief Diversity Officer” to “The Team” is somehow going to paper over this is laughable, besides the fact that nobody’s going to believe his job has anything to do with diversifying their workforce. That’s obviously just his title, and it’s pretty obviously a baldfaced lie to conform with stupid feel good congressional rules.

Pretty sweet job she’s got there. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s pulling down six figures a year for this sort of performance, besides helping to make the yearly corporate photo look nice and diverse.

Six hundred million dollar fine for not doing one thing they promised to do? Just imagine what it would have been had the FCC had a backbone and cared about consumers more than it cared about regulatory capture and the revolving door.

Nobody gets away with this sort of performance anywhere in the world without bribing the hell out of those who’re supposed to be ensuring you’re complying with minimum standards of performance.

Anonymous Coward says:

In totally unrelated news, today corporate jets flew congressmen and top bureaucrats to Tahiti for a 14-day conference on reform of tort law and taxation. One plane stopped briefly at Los Angeles to pick up the Chief Diversity Officers of Mobil, Exxon, Chevron, Gulf, and Royal Dutch Shell. The assistant vice diversity officer of Mobil explained the layover: “the boss never goes to Washington. You can’t get anything done there without being plagued by lobbyists.”

T. Smith says:

"Internet Essentials"

I’m supposed to be eligible for the Internet Essentials program as I am a full-time Pell grant student. My daughter should be too since she is on the free lunch program. Yet every time I call Comcast, I need to go to the local office, and the local office tells me to call the 800#. I have yet, a year in, to get a response/direct answer, and have since given up. Of course, since Comcast is my only local option that isn’t snail paced, I pay three times what I should be (according to their fake program guidelines, anyway).

Lobbyist. I’m in complete agreement.

Beech says:

The proof in the pudding

What’s really funny is that if Comcast really thought that Mr. Cohen wasn’t spending enough time lobbying to be considered a lobbyist, they would sue Karl and this website for libel.

The fact that they don’t means they KNOW should the suit ever get to discovery they’d be hosed when they had to tell Karl how Cohen ACTUALLY spends his time.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: The proof in the pudding

No, because Karl is quite clear that he doesn’t mean the legal definition of lobbyist, but rather the common sense definition. He’s not saying the dude is violating lobbying laws, he’s saying that most of what the guy does has the effect of lobbying in the colloquial sense.

That’s not libel. That’s an opinion.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not about any of the thousands of articles Techdirt or I have written about the company’s abysmal customer service, punitive usage caps, ridiculously high prices, or obnoxiously anti-competitive behavior mind you, but to scold me for one and only one thing: calling the company’s top lobbyist a lobbyist.
They and everyone else knows about the first stuff. They own it. They don’t care about it. The only thing they have to hide is their lobbyists.

Socrates says:


In the Comcast Indian call centers, the employees is even more diverse, as they are 100% Indian! Making the average good 🙂

That’s why the poor people have trouble signing up for affordable Internet; when the person on the phone say come to the local office, he means his local office, in India, down the stair, through the door with the “The Tiger is LOSE” sign!

(pun intended)

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