• Latest News
  • Pitch a Story
  • Work with a Journalist
  • Join the Blog Squad
  • Afghanistan
  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Baltimore
  • Canada
  • Egypt
  • Europe
  • Latin America
  • Middle East
  • Russia
  • Economy
  • Environment
  • Health Care
  • Military
  • Occupy
  • Organize This
  • Reality Asserts Itself
  • US Politics
  • Obama Nominates Cable Industry Lobbyist and Campaign Bundler New Head of FCC

    Nicholas Johnson: Nomination of Tom Wheeler shows Obama wants an FCC that manages monopoly competition - not a defender of public interest; Wheeler on President's intelligence advisory board, not likely to defend right to privacy -   May 13, 13
    Members don't see ads. If you are a member, and you're seeing this appeal, click here

      Share to Twitter
    Share to Facebook

    The Real News is a vital answer to The New York Times, the house organ of the oligarchs. - Al Salzman
    Log in and tell us why you support TRNN


    Obama Nominates Cable Industry Lobbyist and Campaign Bundler New 
Head of FCCPAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.

    On May 1, President Barack Obama named Tom Wheeler, a venture capitalist and former leader of cable and wireless trade groups, to head the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

    Now joining us to give us his view on this nomination is Nicholas Johnson. He was a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, appointed by Lyndon Johnson. He was there from 1966 to 1973. He's been codirector of a public health public policy institute, a network TV host, a congressional candidate. He's the author of many books. He law clerked for the U.S. Supreme Court. And he now joins us from Iowa City.

    Thanks very much for joining us, Nicholas.


    JAY: So what do you make of this appointment of Tom Wheeler?

    JOHNSON: Well, I think it's somewhere between bizarre and outrageous. And there are three things that we can start with that are wrong with it, and then we'll come to a couple more.

    So let's start with why is this guy important to Obama. He is what we call a major donor, not just of his own money, but a bundler. This is somebody who goes around and gets checks from folks who couldn't give it in the old days before corporations became people. They couldn't give it as a corporation, so you'd get checks from all the vice presidents, and you literally bundle them and hand them over to the presidential candidate. And this fellow, this Tom Wheeler, he pulled together some $700,000 to $1 million (there's some difference as to how much) and contributed that to Obama's campaign. So we start off with the fact that we've got somebody who's sort of bought this appointment.

    Number two, this is a really serious position. I mean, normally these large donors, you know, they let them sleep a night in the Lincoln bedroom in the White House or they give him an ambassadorship to a country that even the new ambassador has never heard of where they can't do too much harm. So in this case, they've handed this fellow what I think is the single most important independent regulatory commission in the lives of Americans--parents, children, minorities, working class, you name it, for reasons that we can describe later.

    So (A) he's a big donor. (B) They've given him one of the most important jobs in Washington, D.C.

    Now, third, as some of those presidential candidates would count, (A), (B), and third, he's a fellow who is from this industry. The president of the United States has appointed a lobbyist to regulate lobbyists who lobby on behalf of the corporations that he lobbied on behalf of. He was a trade association president. He was a lobbyist for all those hundreds of companies, plus more, lobbied the FCC , lobbied the Congress, in and out of the White House seeking influence there. And finally, as if all of this was not enough, he's a venture capitalist who has money in some of these companies.

    JAY: Just to be clear for people that don't know, we're talking about the Federal Communications Commission, and this commission regulates anything--tell me if I'm right--everything from cell phones to television to cable TV to satellite TV, radio. I mean, you know, as you say, it's hard to think of something that people interact with more than the communications industry.

    JOHNSON: That's right. Plus under-ocean cables, and police and taxi cab radios, and amateur radio operators. And it used to be the telegraph and the telephone company when AT&T was a monopoly on top of that, when I was on the commission. And so if those who are watching this will turn over their little handheld device or look in the back of their computer or TV screen or whatever, they'll see that it's been type accepted by the FCC. So this equipment itself is approved.

    JAY: So, Nicholas, what are some of the big issues that are going to come before the FCC that one might worry about having an industry rep running the FCC?

    JOHNSON: Oh my goodness. You--how much time you got? I mean, you've got questions of monopoly ownership, permitting firms to merge in ways that end up driving up prices and limiting competition and consumer choice. You have issues like net neutrality, where the question is whether or not your internet service provider can write the software so the only web pages you can get to are the ones that they own, which is the way cable television works instead of being open to anybody who wants to put their programming on the cable.

    Contrast that with AT&T. So, I mean, there were a lot of jokes about AT&T, and Lily Tomlin's routine--we don't care, we don't have to, we're the telephone company. But one thing AT&T did do was it had to provide everybody that wanted a phone a phone, and once you got the phone you could say anything you wanted to say. And it didn't mean that somebody else might not arrest you, but AT&T wasn't going to control content, they were not going to control who you can talk to. They were not going to raise the price on you if you talked to people they didn't think you ought to be talking to. So for all the criticism of AT&T, it was in many ways superior in terms of consumer choice and freedom and price regulation and so forth than what we have now.

    Now, the thing is, about appointing a lobbyist to this job, we should remind folks that when this was created by Congress in the 1920s as the Radio Commission and then in 1934 became the Federal Communications Commission, the whole mission and purpose of this agency was not to further enrich corporate executives, to drive up shareholder value, to increase the cash flow. The purpose of the agency was to represent the people. The standard was you must operate in the public interest. And that meant that broadcast licensees, for example, did not own their frequencies. They had a license that was good initially for 18 months, then for three years. When I was on the commission it was still three years.

    And in exchange for getting this right to make private profit from public property, they were obliged to serve the interests of their community. They were to deal with the controversial issues confronting that community, to provide a range of points of view. They were not to be an instrument of propaganda for one particular ideology or another. And they provided all kinds of service--lost dogs, newborn babies, you know, whatever.

    So of all the agencies where you would not want to appoint a lobbyist or somebody out of the industry, the FCC is number one on the list of the agencies that ought not to have it. It's bad enough elsewhere. You know this outfit that was supposed to be regulating the offshore drilling rigs and it turned out that the regulators were literally sleeping with people in the industry, and then the drilling rig blew up. We have an agency that's supposed to regulate coal mine safety. They've given hundreds of violation notices to the Massey Coal Company, but they never closed them down. And what was it? Twenty-seven guys died down there. So it's significant.

    When you appoint people out of the industry, when you listen to businesses saying, oh, get the government off our backs, we don't want regulation, well, that's when you have salmonella outbreaks and that's when elevators fall and kill people, and that's when interstate highway bridges fall into rivers. There's a reason why we have these regulations.

    JAY: And the FCC, if--remind me how many members there are. It's not very many. It's five?

    JOHNSON: There are five now. There were seven when I was there. We had seven-year terms. And the Senate committee wanted you to serve out your full seven years.

    JAY: Right. And during the 2000s, when you had--essentially you had three Republicans and two Democrats--the two Democrats, you know, were not bad in the 2000s and this concept of fighting for the public interest. But everyone was waiting when there would be this Democratic appointment, so then in theory you'd have three Democrats and you'd have more of a pushback on the industry, except now the chairman is now essentially an industry representative. I don't know how the Republicans could have appointed anyone, you know, more connected to those corporate interests.

    JOHNSON: Well, that's why I don't expect any problem getting approval of this, because the same people who pay the senators--. You realize, if you're--you know, these guys, they go across the street for about a half a day every day to make phone calls trying to raise money 'cause they're not supposed to make those calls from their office. Now, I calculated once, years ago--and it's probably much worse today--if you're a United States senator wanting to be reelected, every morning, you wake up, you see the sun, you realize when that sun sets you've got to have found somewhere $10,000 cash, $10,000 dollars a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, for six years. Now, you and I might be able to raise $10,000 that first day if you've got more wealthy friends than I do, but the second day it's going to be a real struggle. And for the other 363 days that year, I think you and I are going to be out of luck. These guys have got to raise $10,000 every day. Well, the same people who were paying them money are the same people that Tom Wheeler's been working for. So I think it's highly unlikely that he's not going to be approved.

    JAY: Okay. Well--.

    JOHNSON: [incompr.] another problem. You want another problem? I mean, I gave you three.

    JAY: Yeah, go ahead.

    JOHNSON: No, but another thing is, in addition to all this lobbying and representing trade associations and investing in these companies--. Well, let me just comment about that. You've got two problems here. One is an actual conflict of interest, that somebody like that will simply, like a colleague of mine on the commission--I ask him during a hearing, I say, hey, how are you going to vote on this one? He'd say, well, Nick, I don't know. He said, some of my friends are for this and some of my friends are against it, and, well, I'm for my friends. And so one problem is that a fellow like Wheeler gets in there and he votes for his friends--the people he's represented, the people he's got investments in, and so forth. I'd like to believe that he's an honorable enough guy that he wouldn't do that, but that's always a risk.

    But whether he does it or he doesn't do it, there is the appearance of this conflict. If you're on the losing side and half of the people who appear in court or appear before the FCC end up being on the losing side, what are you going to think?

    JAY: Well, isn't part of what's happened here, Nick--Nicholas, isn't part of what's happened here is this underlying principle or idea that the airways are public and the FCC's role is to allow private companies access to them, but always reinforce the public interest, tThat seems to have been so pushed to the side now, that essentially really what the FCC's role is is to manage the relations between the big monopolies to allow, you know, in theory a certain kind of equal playing ground that the one monopoly doesn't get the advantage over the other monopoly, and it's all about those intermonopoly relations? The public interest doesn't seem to have all that much more to--much to do with it anymore.

    JOHNSON: Well, but the law hasn't changed. I mean, that's still what they're supposed to be doing.

    JAY: Well, we're going to keep following this story, and we're going to come back to Nicholas as Wheeler's term begins, and we'll start looking at some--.

    JOHNSON: Well, I've got my fourth thing. You want to hear that?

    JAY: Oh, yeah. Go ahead. Finish off. Yeah.

    JOHNSON: Well, he's on the president's intelligence advisory board. Now, one of the major issues in all this digitization, internet computerization stuff is our personal privacy, because if somebody's following you around as a private detective or something, you're probably going to figure out that they're always walking behind you or driving behind you or whatever. But on the internet, there's no way you can know who's tracking you, who's getting what, how much they're getting on you, who they're selling that data to, and so forth. And one of the worst offenders is United States government that thinks it's necessary to spy on all American citizens on the off chance they might catch a terrorist or two. And the job of this intelligence board is to think about the interests of the government in this regard, rather than to think about the privacy interests of us. So that's just one more bit of baggage that he takes into the commission.

    JAY: Right. And that's pertinent, because the FCC has a lot to say about to what extent these media monopolies have to safeguard people's privacy.

    JOHNSON: That's right. So if folks want to know more, the website is, and they can find out how to send me an email, and I'm happy to answer questions and stuff.

    JAY: Yeah, that's good. Yeah, please, I encourage people to go there. And we'll be back with Nicholas as things develop at the FCC. Thanks for joining us.

    JOHNSON: Well, thank you.

    JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


    DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


    Our automatic spam filter blocks comments with multiple links and multiple users using the same IP address. Please make thoughtful comments with minimal links using only one user name. If you think your comment has been mistakenly removed please email us at


    Latest Stories

    Affirmative Action Ruling Will Further Racial Inequality
    Evidence for Russian Involvement in East Ukraine Based on Shoddy Journalism
    Ivy League Study: The General Public Has Virtually No Influence on Policy
    The Modern History of Venezuela and Popular Democracy - Edgardo Lander on RAI (9/9)
    An Asia "Pivot" Should Mean Cooperating with China to Solve the Global Environmental Crisis
    Assessing the U.S. Environmental Movement
    Intimidation and Political Interference Goes Unpunished in UAW Case
    Exclusive Investigation Uncovers How BP Uses Bribes To Do Business
    The Modern History of Venezuela, The Protests and Democracy - Edgardo Lander on RAI (8/9)
    Greek Politics 4 Years After The Financial Crisis
    CBO Report Confirms U.S. Deficit Back to Normal Level
    Israel Uses Refugees as "Currency" in Arms Trade with Africa
    Who Will Pay for Climate Change Disaster?
    Canada Shifts to Right Under Harper, Mimicking the United States
    The Savings and Loan Crisis Demonstrates the Importance of Glass-Steagall
    South African Platinum Miner's Struggle Challenges ANC Leadership
    TRNN Original Report: Manning Determined to Fight Back After Army Upholds 35- Year Sentence
    Hundredth Anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre
    The Bundy Ranch Standoff Demonstrates Values Shared by Corporations and the Far Right
    The Resegregation of American Schools
    The Modern History of Venezuela, Why Still So Much Crime? - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (7/9)
    What Role Has Russia Played in Eastern Ukraine?
    Can Johns Hopkins Afford to Pay A Living Wage? (2/2)
    University Sit-In Targets World's Largest Private Coal Company
    The Modern History of Venezuela and the Need for a Post-Oil Economy - Edgardo Lander on RAI (6/9)
    Can Johns Hopkins Afford to Pay A Living Wage? (1/2)
    One Percent of Environmentalists Killings Lead to Convictions
    Investigation Finds Former Ukraine President Not Responsible For Sniper Attack on Protestors
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1973 to the Caracazo Massacre - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (3/9)
    Ukraine Transitional Gov't Moves Militarily To Reclaim Seized Buildings
    IPCC Report Flawed By Narrow Focus on Carbon Emissions
    The Modern History of Venezuela: The Bolivarian Revolution - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (5/9)
    Obama Signs Directives to Reduce the Gender Wage Gap
    Eastern Ukraine Lacks Political Representation in Kiev
    Demystifying the Role of Mitigation in the Most Recent IPCC Report
    Hypersurveillance State Won't Prevent Another Boston Marathon Bombing
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1973 to the Caracazo Massacre - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (3/9)
    Univ. of Maine Faculty Reinstated After Students Protest Against Cuts
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1908 to 1973 - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (2/9)
    IMF Will Address Global Inequality, Says Managing Director Christine Lagarde
    Raising Big Banks' Leverage Ratio Good, But Not Nearly Enough
    TRNN Replay: Austerity Road to 19th Century
    Has Palestinian Maneuvering Revived Peace Talks?
    Late Jackson Mayor Lumumba's Son Wins Primary to Replace His Father, Runoff Election Ahead
    Quebecers Reject PQ and Elect a Liberal Government Representing Big Business
    TRNN Debate: Decriminalization vs. Legalization
    The Beginning of the Chavez Era - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (4/9)
    "Off With His Head": Court Upholds Obama's Power to Kill
    Workers at Nation's Top Hospital Strike For Fair Wages
    From Exile to Radicalization in Venezuela - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (1/9)
    Rwanda 20 Years Later: Genocide, Western Plunder of Congo, and President Kagame
    Ukrainian Protesters in the East Demand More Autonomy From Kiev Government
    Hunger Strikers Demand President Obama Halt His Record 2 Million Deportations
    Indian Parliamentary Elections - A Primer With Vijay Prashad
    West Looks to Carve Up Ukraine & Privatize Industries Held by Kleptocrats
    Where Are Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations Headed?
    The Multiple Kingdoms of Saudi Arabia (5/5)
    Do the Afghan Presidential Elections Signify Progress?
    Republican Presidential Hopefuls Pay Homage to Billionaire Casino Tycoon Sheldon Adelson
    Will Extremist Lieberman Become Israel's Next Prime Minister?
    Why do the Saudis Want the US to Attack Iran? (4/5)
    Immigrant Advocates and Families Tell President Obama 'Not One More'
    Elections, Pipelines, and Protests - The Canada Panel
    Chris Hedges on "Israel's War on American Universities"
    Baltimore Residents Decry Lack of Affordable Housing
    Yellen Talks the Talk But Will She Walk the Walk?
    Hopkins Hospital Workers Speak Out against "Poverty Wages"
    Will Venezuela's New Floating Exchange Rate Curb Inflation?
    The European Central Bank's War on Wages is Pushing Europe's Economy to the Brink
    Supreme Court Decision Opens Floodgates for More Campaign Cash
    Charles Keating, the Financier Behind the Savings and Loan Scandal, Dies at 90
    Saudi Arabia and the al-Qaeda Monster (3/5)
    Maryland Residents Voice Opposition to Natural Gas Fracking Export Facility
    Supreme Court Ruling Gives Wealthy Individuals More Influence Over Elections
    What are the Saudis Afraid Of? - Madawi Al-Rasheed (2/5)
    Baltimore's MICA Adjunct Professors Set to Vote on Unionization
    Boycott of Israel Moving to Next Level?
    Hypocrisy Dressed Up as "Realism" Justifies American Alliance with Saudi Dictatorship
    Immigration Reform in the Shadows of Cesar Chavez's Legacy
    Leaked Senate Report Shows Use of Torture As "Ineffective"
    UN Report Says Climate Change Will Threaten Food Production Worldwide
    The Hypocrisy of US Calling for Enforcement of International Law
    How the Ecuadorian Economy Grew in a Global Recession
    'Shadows of Liberty' Trailer
    Kristina Borjesson on Why CBS Shut Down Her investigation into Flight 800 (2/8)
    Glen Ford on Racism in the American Media (3/8)
    Paul Jay on What Drives Corporate Media and What Drive The Real News (4/8)
    Creating a New Media Paradigm After Citizens United (5/8)
    Should The Left Engage with the Mainstream Media? (6/8)
    What Is the Financial Backing For The Real News? (7/8)
    Standing up to Character Assassination (8/8)
    Oligarchs, Fascists and the People's Protest in Ukraine
    TRNN Debate: Is Obamacare In the Interest of Workers?
    Too-Big-To-Fail Advantage Remains Intact For Big Banks
    Obama and the Saudi Agenda
    TRNN Replay: Investigating the Saudi Government's 9/11 Connection and the Path to Disilliusionment - Sen. Graham on Reality Asserts Itself pt 1
    The Iraq War's Real Legacy
    Petitions with 100,000+ Signatures Call for Snowden's Passport to be Reinstated
    We Need to Harness People Power - Andy Shallal on Reality Asserts Itself (4/4)
    BC Pipeline Fight and Quebec Elections - The Canada Panel
    Jonathan Schell - 1943-2014: Board Member of TRNN on Why We Need The Real News
    Teachers on Strike from the UK to Argentina
    Connecticut Poised to Become First State with $10.10 Minimum Wage
    Oil Spill Threatens Wildlife and Local Economy
    DC School Test Scores Up, But Poor Black Kids Are Doing Worse - Andy Shallal on RAI (3/4)
    Obama's Proposal To End NSA Bulk Data Collection Won't Protect Privacy
    How Google, Apple & The Biggest Tech Companies Colluded to Fix Workers' Wages
    An American Should be One that Questions Their Government - Andy Shallal on RAI (2/4)
    What's Driving Putin & Obama's Posturing on Ukraine?
    Hundreds of Students & Faculty Occupy College Campus to Fight Cuts to Public Higher Ed
    Due Process 'Impossible' In Harsh Death Sentencing Of Over 500 Muslim Brotherhood Members
    Has Anglo-American Capitalism Run Out of Steam?
    Being the "Other" in America - Andy Shallal on Reality Asserts Itself (1/4)
    TRNN Debate: Should Baltimore 'Ban The Box'?
    How Fallujah Became the Iraqi Government's New Battleground
    Why I Decided to Blow the Whistle on the NSA
    NASA Climate Predictions Show Serious Threat To Humanity
    Professor Who Teaches Israel-Palestine Conflict Accuses College of Violating His Academic Freedom
    CIA and NSA Wrongdoing Requires Independent Investigation, Says Former Church Committee Staff
    Are Tuition Breaks Enough To Combat High Student Debt And Low Graduation Rates?
    Industries Across the U.S. Are Stealing Wages From Their Lowest Paid Workers
    Who In Ukraine Will Benefit From An IMF Bailout?
    NSA Recording All International Calls From U.S.
    Israel "Making Lives Miserable" for Africans, Hoping They 'Self-Deport' (2/2)
    BP Gets Green Light to Drill in Gulf, But Has Safety Improved?
    Residents Still Not Drinking Tap Water Two Months After West Virginia Spill (1/2)
    Libya's Descent Into Turmoil Three Years After NATO Intervention
    From Pipelines to Peladeau - Canadian Report
    Israel "Making Lives Miserable" for Africans, Hoping They 'Self-Deport' (1/2)
    Congressional Progressive Caucus Budget Strikes Back Against Austerity
    Libya Three Years Later - Chaos and Partition
    Why Was Gaddafi Overthrown?
    Should Ukraine and West Accept De Facto Crimea Joining Russia? (2/2)
    Tony Benn Saw Socialism as the Culmination of Democratization
    Why Didn't Bush/Cheney Attack Iran and Can Obama Make and Sell a Deal? - Gareth Porter on Reality Asserts Itself (3/3)
    After Late Mayor Lumumba is Laid to Rest, What's Next for Jackson, Mississippi? (2/2)
    Crimea Referendum: Self Determination or Big Power Manipulation? (1/2)
    Sen. Graham: President Must Side with Openness About CIA and 9/11
    Manufacturing a Narrative for War - Gareth Porter on Reality Asserts Itself (2/3)
    Protesters Hit the Streets of Brooklyn to Demand $15 Minimum Wage
    Hammer: 'Moral Bankruptcy' Behind Massive GM Recall
    White House Withholds Thousands of Documents from Senate CIA Probe
    I Grew Up Believing in Time Magazine's Version of America - Gareth Porter on RAI (1/3)
    Western European Banks Vulnerable to Ukrainian Sovereign Debt Crisis
    TRNN Debate: What's Driving Inflation in Venezuela? (2/2)
    CIA vs. Senate: Who Is Obama Protecting?
    Will Tipped Workers Get Excluded Again From Minimum Wage Hike?
    TRNN Debate: What's Driving Inflation in Venezuela? (1/2)
    After Late Mayor Lumumba is Laid to Rest, What's Next for Jackson, Mississippi?(1/2)
    TRNN Replay: A Look at Who's Poised to Become No.2 at the Fed
    How Right-Wing Nationalism Rose to Influence in Ukraine (2/2)
    Netanyahu Attacks Boycott As Campaign Enters New Phase
    Moving Towards a Police State - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (7/7)
    Fighting Reagan's Secret, Illegal Wars - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (6/7)
    Puerto Rican Independence Movement and Cuba Further Radicalized Me - Michael Ratner on RAI (5/7)
    The Butcher of Attica - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (4/7)
    MLK and a Radicalizing Moment in American History - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (3/7), Real News Network, Real News, Real News For Real People, IWT are trademarks and service marks of IWT.TV inc. "The Real News" is the flagship show of IWT and Real News Network.

    All original content on this site is copyright of The Real News Network.  Click here for more

    Problems with this site? Please let us know

    Linux VPS Hosting by Star Dot Hosting