The Hypocrisy of Michael Copps

by on March 28, 2009 · 6 comments

Speaking of socializing media, acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps is someone who has devoted much of his life to regulating the media marketplace into the ground. If he had his way, federal bureaucrats would be controlling virtually every aspect of the media universe. Nothing would get done with Big Nanny’s permission.

That’s what makes his recent comments about the impact of media regulation so delicious.. and hypocritical.  According to an article  Bloomberg ran on Thursday, Copps is now saying that, with newspapers struggling to remain afloat, the FCC should now reconsider regulations that prohibit combined ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers.  The agency should “visit this whole problem” before long, Copps apparently told Bloomberg.

“Visit this problem before long”??  Please!  Congress and the FCC have had opportunities to “visit” and revisit this problem for many years now, but it has been Michael Copps and his merry band of media reformistas who have stopped every reform effort dead in its tracks.  (See my essays “Congress Fiddles, Newspapers Burn” and “Media Deregulation is Dead” for more evidence of how these radicals hijacked media policy in this country.)  As I documented in my 2005 Media Myths book, these charlatans have used hyperbolic rhetoric, shameless fear-mongering, and unsubstantiated claims in opposition to each and every sensible effort to reform our nation’s outdated media ownership policies.  Those laws and regulations have created artificial market structures and hindered the ability of media operators to find new business models that might throw them a lifeline in difficult times.

Consider the fact that it was just 14 months ago that then-Commissioner Copps issued this gem of a hysteria-ridden statement in response to the agency’s last effort to ever-so-slightly loosen the newspaper-broadcast cross ownership rule:

Today’s decision would make George Orwell proud. We claim to be giving the news industry a shot in the arm—but the real effect is to reduce total newsgathering. We shed crocodile tears for the financial plight of newspapers—yet the truth is that newspaper profits are about double the S&P 500 average.

I remember when I read that back in Dec ’07 and thinking to myself that Michael Copps is either willfully blind to the facts or intentionally twisting them to suit his own ends.  Regardless, the writing was on the wall years ago with the rise of unprecedented information abundance and media competition and there was no good reason to force traditional media operators to face these new challenges with one arm tied behind their backs.  But that’s exactly what Copps and his radical cronies over at Free Press and other groups did.

But now Copps is suddenly having second thoughts?  Now that he has dug their graves and driven stakes through their hearts, he suddenly wants to cast himself as an Information Age Jesus and resurrect Lazarus?  Oh, the hypocrisy of it all!  As my boss Ken Ferree recently pointed out:

They’ve all now suddenly discovered that the business model for daily newspapers is under strain and may not be sustainable? Was it the New York Times slouching toward bankruptcy that got their attention, or the failure of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer? [...] The sad truth is, the newspaper business has been heading toward a cliff for the last ten years; only willful ignorance can explain the failure of these people who have so recently come to be concerned about the fate of journalism to acknowledge the threat. Time will tell whether their new-found concern has come too late, or whether they have poisoned the political well too thoroughly for any effective policy change.

Moreover, as Ken also points out, it’s not just Copps who has apparently seen the light and had a sudden conversion.

This follows a letter from Speaker Pelosi to Attorney General Holder suggesting restrained antitrust review of transactions involving newspaper assets, and a proposal from Senator Cardin (D-MD) for a quasi-government bailout of newspaper firms.

Ken has more commentary on the Pelosi letter here.   Like Ken, when reading these comments from Pelosi and Copps, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  I suppose I should be happy that they have finally seen the error in their ways.  It’s just a shame it took such devistation for them to open their eyes to the truth.  Regulatory reform might not have been able to save these old media operators, but they should have at least been giving the freedom to structure their affairs and restructure their business models in an attempt to avoid extinction.  Copps and Pelosi now have to live with the grim reality that it’s tough to throw someone a lifeline after you’ve already sank the ship.

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