from the grotesque-puppetry dept
We’d already noted how telecom and media giants are engaged in a last ditch attempt over the next few weeks to derail Biden’s nomination to the FCC, Gigi Sohn. Sohn is widely admired by folks on both sides of the aisle, and is eminently qualified on stuff like expanding access to affordable broadband, media consolidation, consumer protection, privacy, and media diversity.
The broad consensus is that Sohn is hugely qualified and fair. But she’s also a real reformer, an anti-monopolist, and a staunch opponent of mindless media consolidation. That’s something AT&T, Verizon, Charter, and Comcast, which were coddled throughout the Trump era, would very much like to avoid.
Since they can’t attack her actual record, telecom and media giants have been engaged in an absolutely grotesque smear campaign involving getting various groups to falsely accuse Sohn of disliking minorities, hating rural America, or trying to censor conservatives. With the entire GOP in loyal lockstep (as is usually the case), telecom’s now focused on flipping the votes of Senators Mark Kelly of Arizona, Catherine Cortez Mastro of Nevada, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia to kill Sohn’s nomination dead.
Joining that campaign is the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). For the last six months, FOP has been spewing all manner of gibberish complaints about Sohn, including the idea that her nomination should be opposed because she (gasp) supports encryption. I’d wager much of this being coordinated by AT&T, which has a long history with precisely this kind of greasy shit and has an existing partnership with FOP.
Now the FOP has come out with a push poll, whose function is to accuse Sohn of hating the police. Basically, the FOP’s not-at-all-scientific poll found that if you tell people who had no idea who Sohn is that she is “anti-police,” they’ll be less likely to support Sohn:
Of course Sohn isn’t “anti-police” and doesn’t actually support “defunding the police.” Like many, she has supported police reform (itself not at all a radical or unpopular position), such as offloading some more sensitive social and mental health outreach to social workers. The FOP’s “research” into what tweets Sohn liked on this front is about as flimsy and performative as it comes.
Granted it didn’t take long for the bunk claim that Sohn is “anti-police” to be circulated by right wing gibberish merchants like Phil Kerpen (he played a role in those fake comments supporting the telecom industry attack on net neutrality), who thought the FOP’s completely unscientific findings were “interesting”:
Again, telecom and media giants don’t oppose Sohn because she likes tweets advocating for police reform (which itself isn’t disqualifying anyway). They oppose Sohn because she actively wants to tackle the vast harms created by things like telecom monopolization, limited broadband competition, privacy abuses, mindless media consolidation, and other issues in the telecom space.
Sohn’s genuinely popular across both sides of the aisle and her record is stellar. Since they can’t attack her on the merits, telecom is using proxy organizations to spread harmful gibberish in a bid to either flip or provide flimsy justification for the votes of Senators Kelly, Cortez Mastro, or Manchin.
It’s a grotesque campaign, but it’s how DC works. And when the press can be bothered to stop talking about Elon Musk long enough to cover the story, they cover it with headlines like this one, that amplify the false claims, and at no point make it clear this is all manufactured controversy:
I’ve been watching these kinds of bad faith “astroturf” campaigns from telecom (which of course are common in most other industries) for decades, and the press, public, and policymakers never seem to get any more savvy at identifying or combating them.
The Biden team isn’t faultless here either. It took the Biden administration nine months to even nominate Sohn, giving the telecom industry (frightened by the rush promotion of Lina Khan at the FTC) ample time to galvanize opposition. Team Biden also hasn’t done anything to defend Sohn publicly, or apply any meaningful pressure on the Senate confirmation voting process. Nor have Sohn’s future FCC colleagues voiced any public support, despite the shamelessness of the attacks.
Which, in turn, is fairly reflective of how the federal government doesn’t really take stuff like telecom monopolization and telecom consolidation seriously, especially in an era where “big tech” has sucked all the oxygen out of the DC policy room. And again, this is all occurring in an era when DC pretends to be interested in “bipartisan antitrust reform,” revealing the hollowness of the gambit.