The brouhaha over Baker's move from the FCC to Comcast? Much ado about nothing

editor's corner

Jim O'Neill

Let's all take a moment to play this week's favorite game: Pillaring former FCC Commissioner and new Comcast SVP of Government Affairs Meredith Attwell Baker, who, since deciding to join what formerly was known as "America's Largest Cable Company" and is now colloquially known as "The Evil Empire 2" (Microsoft, of course, is No. 1) has seen nothing but the, well, let's just call it the "unwanted end of the stick" in reaction.

Baker, four months ago, voted in favor of Comcast's $30 billion acquisition of NBC Universal; she was one of four "yes" votes that lined up against a singe "nay." Even without her vote, the deal would have gone through. And, she voted according to her record as a pro-business voice on the commission; she's a Republican, for crying out loud, of course she voted in favor of the deal.

You'll remember, the deal was a contentious one, and there's little doubt that it had, and will continue to have, an impact on the media landscape for a long, long time.

Baker says she's leaving the FCC June 3, about a month before she would have otherwise completed her term.

She's also facing restrictions about how much, and whom she can lobby. If President Obama wins a second term, she's barred from lobbying the FCC until the end of it. And she can't lobby the FCC on topics related to The NBC Universal deal.

Baker's decision to leave the FCC and the joy of working for the government, to pursue a corporate job confirmed, declared John Dunbar, director of the Media and Broadband Project at the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, "the worst suspicions that the regulators are there for the companies and not for the public."

And there are a number of other gems demonizing Baker for her career choice, like this one from Rep. Maxine Waters, (D-Calif.) whom some of her critics refer to as "Swamp Queen." 

"I do not believe there were no discussions of her going to work for Comcast before the deal was approved. I think she knew when she took that vote that she would be going to work for Comcast," said Rep. Waters, who, obviously, was opposed to the merger, casting aspersions that, regardless of what Baker says (she denies talking to Comcast about a job before the deal was approved) won't likely ever go away.

Waters, by the way, last year was accused by the House Ethics panel of intervening with federal regulators on behalf of a bank her husband was both invested in and of which he was a former board member.  Her trial in front of the panel, a rare occurrence, has been on hold since being announced last August.

Public interest group Free Press head Craig Aaron called the move "business as usual in Washington --where the complete capture of government by industry barely raises any eyebrows."

And, actually, in a sense, it is business as usual. Baker is really just applying what has become standard business acumen in the nation's capital (as well as any state capital)... to do your job, you make contacts, take advantage of your contacts (hey, that sounds just like the media, sales, law et al.), and try and maintain a good working relationship with your contacts.

It iss not illegal, and it's not rocket science to see that there's a very blurry line between the public and private sector.

She is, after all, following in the footsteps of another FCC official, former chair Michael Powell is now in charge of the cable trade group the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. And the revolving door between the FCC and the industry is anything but rare.

Is what Baker did illegal? No, it's just a tad ill timed. --Jim