Reed Hundt and Susan Crawford’s Phony First Amendment

by Mike Wendy on June 13, 2013

Former FCC Chairman, Reed Hundt, had some interesting things to say the other day as he called on the FCC to tear down its cross-ownership restrictions that prevent broadcast media owners from owning newspapers in the same market.  Hundt believes the rule has been mooted by the growth of the Internet (which it has), and that its elimination would allow better-off broadcast outlets to purchase newspapers, thus improving the health of the dying newspaper industry as a whole.

Well, that’s the unremarkable, “Washington” reason to change the rule.

The real driver is not that, but instead his desire to undermine the Koch brothers and their attempted purchase of the struggling LA Times.  As that paper reports, Hundt “can’t imagine anything good from the Koch family owning the Los Angeles Times.” He went on to add that “When I think of the ways they use money and media to misinform, misdirect and make miserable all of us, I conclude: Only in America.”

Good stuff, huh?

Well, no.

Not coincidentally (perhaps as part of a well-funded lobbying effort to change the rule), the Washington Post recently published an odd opinion piece by Hundt on the same matter.  In the piece’s conclusion, Hundt makes a somewhat more remarkable assertion:

“…One of the glories of the United States is that we truly believe in free speech. When applied to media, that means we should honor the freedom to own the means of speech.”

I say remarkable because Reed Hundt and his partner in crime, Susan Crawford, have urged the FCC to deny those same rights to Verizon as it relates to the agency’s Net Neutrality regulations.

As you may know, Verizon believes that among the other services it offers it’s also a media company with the full editorial discretion of a newspaper.  In its view, because it hasn’t yet fully taken on this role does not mean it shouldn’t be allowed to in the future.  It’s appealing the FCC’s Net Neutrality rule because that rule forbids it from being a full-fledged media company – one which could arrange itself as it sees fit and in doing so also favor its content arrangements over others’ on its network.  This model of reasonable economic “discrimination” is allowed in virtually every sector of our economy.

Except, that is, for Verizon and network providers like it.

As it applies to Internet networks, Hundt and Crawford basically say “Only the government gets to decide if you’re a media company.  Not you.”  You see, in their perverse, censorious world, even when the market isn’t broken, when market power isn’t present, and competition thrives, providers like Verizon should never be able to use its speech facilities in novel and innovative ways, as it wants.  Because, well, um, it’s never been done before, so it must not ever be done going forward (imagine if that logic were applied to the Internet?  But I digress).

In other words, Verizon is not truly free to own, control or determine the means of how it speaks because in Reed and Susan’s I-know-it-when-I-see-it view of the world, Verizon is just a conduit, not a media company.  Consequently, the government, through the FCC, is entirely within its bounds to be a speech DMV and restrict what Verizon may do with its network.

It seems to me that if Chairman Hundt really meant what he said, then Verizon – and Verizon only – could determine if it is a media company.  And given this, it could act accordingly, free to speak in any way it deems appropriate.

But no.  Reed and Susan’s phony First Amendment is based on desired outcomes – that is, it’s OK to move the goalpost if it undermines the Kochs’ conservative speech, or if it ensures that companies like Verizon never stray into areas that compete with the Internet’s much-worshipped “edge.”  Their First Amendment can’t be tethered because then it can’t be tooled to reach desired outcomes.

You know, that kooky “Congress shall make no law…” stuff is kind of a buzz-kill to them.

Anyway, the scary thing here is that we have a ruling class in America that feels only it can make these determinations. It’s so smart, only it can throw out the wisdom and limits of the First Amendment, and impose its view of what’s fair, right…

…Or, what is or isn’t a media company.

Even wielded in good hands, that sounds like a recipe for tyranny.  Of course, as we’re seeing here in Washington of late, good hands are in short supply.

That isn’t good for Verizon.  But, more importantly, that isn’t good for free speech or liberty, either.

S.K. July 29, 2013 at 8:48 pm

Man, this whole article reeks of astroturfing. Of course puppets in the pockets of major telcos will trash these things as quickly as they can, or else they wouldn’t get paid.

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