Is Anybody There? Does Anybody Care?

by Norman Horowitz

FCC commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker has announced that she will leave the Commission to join the media monster Comcast as Senior VP of Government Affairs. Baker, a Republican, had voted in favor of the Comcast-NBC/Universal merger.

What follows is fiction. I made up parts of the story in order to make my point. The “set up” is true, but the end is totally fictitious.

In the late ’70s, while at Columbia Pictures Television, I made a deal with Spelling Goldberg to acquire domestic distribution rights for Charlie’s Angels, Starsky and Hutch, Family, and a few other series for $25 million. A short time after the deal closed, I resigned from Columbia in order to become an independent producer with Spelling Goldberg for a lot of money.

Would there have been anything inherently wrong with my doing that? No, not at all. But it would’ve appeared very suspect.  

I shall not attempt to further define the kind of conflict Baker’s being hired by Comcast represents. But it gives additional evidence that our country is less governed by the “elected” and increasingly governed by the lobbyists.

It’s upsetting that one of the “cops” responsible for regulating a major segment of the media and who has recently voted on issues concerning Comcast has “only moments later” gone to work for Comcast, who to me is (metaphorically speaking) one of the “robbers.”

It also bothers me that I haven’t seen many objections to this announcement. I wonder why.

Ms. Baker to leave the Commission and join Comcast may be “no big deal,” but it illustrates the coziness of the relationships between the regulators and the regulated.

Baker didn’t initiate the Comcast deal to take over NBC. She works for a government body to whom this deal was presented. She was one of the people who decided if it should be approved. She considered all the arguments, did her due diligence to the best of her ability, and decided that, yes, with a few caveats, the deal should be approved.

The next day, or week, or month, she gets a call from Comcast, asking her what her future plans are, knowing that she’s leaving the government body. She says, “I’ve got a few irons in the fire. Why do you ask?” Comcast says, “Come work for us. We thought you were very fair in your evaluation of our deal. We could use you on our team.”

She says yes.

Doesn’t it seem that at least possible that Comcast is somehow paying her off for approving the NBC deal?

Even if that’s not what’s directly going on, doesn’t it send a message to all regulators that, if you cooperate with the regulated, you too can be rewarded with a great job?

As the song goes…

Is anybody there?
Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?