Mikey Powell Floats Trial Balloon on Departure

First came the rumor, then the call from a member of the “business press” – now FCC Chairman Mikey Powell himself appears to be floating the notion of stepping aside. In Sunday’s business section (naturally) of the New York Times, Powell got to bitch about his job: “I have a tired family, tired children and a tired spouse. Candidly, I once said I would be in this job for three years and then leave. That was three years ago.”
The entire article is quite long but worth a read. The basic synopsis is that he’s a nice guy who is politically ham-handed. It’s not that he’s a bad regulator; he’s just not good at greasing the political wheels of D.C. with enough finesse. It’s analogous to praising a thief for his line of work but lamenting the time he gets caught.
There are, however, a few doozies which deserve highlight:
“I’ve been called every name in the book by every opponent in the book,” he said. “That’s classic Washington. If you can’t get past jingoism, you attack the person. I wish the press would focus on more than who’s rebuked and who’s rebuking and look at what the best alternatives are for the public in terms of policy.”
Awwwww, poor Mikey. Perhaps if he hadn’t stuck his neck out on the chopping block (declaring the market to be his religion, lampooning the public interest, and writing the revisions to the media ownership rules in secret) he might deserve some sympathy. No luck here.
Then, two paragraphs later, a weasel-and-deflection turns into a contradiction of the above:
Asked about accusations by some that he had failed to build enough public support for the rules before adopting them, Mr. Powell replied: “I’ve heard that represented as my failure. I’ll take that as my responsibility. But there was a concerted grass-roots effort to attack the commission from the outside in.”
So which one is it? A “concerted grassroots effort…from the outside in” or “classic Washington?” The fact that Powell sounds surprised by a massive outpouring of public input on an important policy issue speaks volumes. It lays bare the hypocrisy that is official Washington: working from the inside out is good, working from the outside in is bad. This is not business as usual, Mikey.
Even better is his attempt to marginalize the public who actually spoke out against the media rule changes – so enamored is Mikey with the goals of maximizing commerce that he, too, believes the lowest common denominator represents the media’s highest possible purpose:
“There has been a huge problem with the political lopsidedness of the debate,” Mr. Powell said. “People in the opposition are part of a highly vocal and strenuous community. They have relatively strong viewpoints, are very active and mobile.”
“On the other side, if you are in a fraternity watching TV and drinking beer and happy, what are you going to do to get in the debate?” he asked. “You are not. I think the public is more upset with the media than they are with the rules.”
It certainly must be frustrating to have the public interest box your ears after six years of paying it scant lip service. Having to pay attention to anyone not in one’s rolodex can be so….messy.
Finally, I think this completes the delusion – while many who know about the revolving door between the FCC and the industries it regulates are displeased (at the least) by its existence, Mikey already takes it for granted:
“There is no urgency in terms of quitting and going into the private sector,’ he said. “It will be there when I am ready.”
As has been part of Mikey’s problem since he took the reins of the FCC, his confidence comes across as arrogance. Or maybe, after such a consistent track record, we can finally drop the pretend misinterpretation and simply call him an arrogant f*ck.
Seriously, though, even if Powell departs the FCC with his tail between his legs, what will that change? Another Republican will be appointed to take his seat, and the chairmanship of the commission will likely transfer to one of the two remaining Republican members, Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin. Martin is the likely successor, as he knows how to wheel and deal and already has a somewhat positive reputation in the press for being a young “maverick.”
That’s just what we need. Ridding ourselves of a bad seed does not change the fact that the core remains rotten.