Clinton versus Obama on a 2009 Media Agenda

by: Matt Stoller

Thu Nov 15, 2007 at 11:10


One of the first things the Burmese government did to shut down the dissidents was shut down the internet.  Writer's Guild rallies get scant coverage on local news channel KBNC, which is owned by a company negotiating with the writers.  The largest set of environmental protests since Earth Day in 1970 was organized in 2007, and done over the internet.  There is a new set of left-wing radical evangelical churches emerging, preaching about global warming and global poverty, soaked in the free culture of the web.  Meanwhile, large telecom, broadcast, and cable companies seek to shut down and control the internet and our media for their own purposes, seeking to shut down the nervous system of modern American progressive culture and politics.

In other words, the internet and our media are not just issues, and they are not just tech issues, they are organizing principles around which we are shaping the very nature of our politics and culture.  And that's why I consider the next FCC a core fulcrum for the election.

Chris's post on 'What to expect from a Democratic trifecta' is a useful jumping off point for post-2008 planning.  He examines the legislative angle, but what about the administrative angle?  That is, there's lots of stuff a new administration can just do with the rule-making authority it already has, including the Commander in Chief authority, political appointments across agencies and departments, and enforcement priorities.  For instance, the President can simply withdraw us from Iraq, can begin negotiations with Iran, and can get the government to begin retrofitting its buildings for green standards.

But let's take media.  The FCC can simply implement net neutrality by reclassifying cable modems, DSL, and fiber as a telecommunications service, the way the agency took net neutrality away by doing the opposite in 2002.  The FCC can also shift ownership requirements for media conglomerates, even reversing media consolidation and mandating a certain number of television and radio stations be owned by minorities, women, and local groups instead of mega-death-corp-defense-contractor.

The reason I am leaning towards Obama is because in the area that I know fairly well, with the FCC, he is far better than Clinton.  Clinton has been mostly opaque as to what she'll do with the FCC, but we do have hints.  We know, for instance, how she'll select her FCC Chair.  She'll sell it.

Ness has strong personal ties to Sen. Clinton that stretch back to her days as a campaign worker and fundraiser for President Bill Clinton, who rewarded her with the FCC appointment in 1994.

This time around, Ness has been actively campaigning for Hillary. More important, she is an official "HillRaiser"-a supporter who has bundled at least $100,000 for the campaign...

In 2004, Ness plunged into the Kerry campaign as a major fundraiser, hoping again to earn the FCC top job. But Ohio went to Bush.

And here are her priorities for the FCC.

Her campaign Web site says: "Among the issues she has fought for and will make a priority as president are: Protecting children against violence and sexual content in the media and studying the impact of electronic media on children's cognitive, social and physical development."

We are able to redefine the communications landscape for the first time in history with the most revolutionary technological and cultural set of tools ever created, and Clinton wants to... deal with TV violence.  Her FCC Chair choice, Ness, is well-liked by broadcasters, a surefire sign of problems.  And Clinton's plan for broadband is modeled off of Connect Kentucky, an industry-written plan that defines broadband at 200K, which is 500 times slower than the speed of broadband in Japan.  Worse, it excludes net neutrality.  And if Clinton has a position on media consolidation, it's not a priority in her campaign.  She has been silent on wireless spectrum and won't even give a straight answer on retroactive immunity for telecom companies.

In other words, it looks like Clinton is going to go down the 1990s model of telecom deregulation and media consolidation that brought us to the deeply dangerous position we're in today, and she'll do it by selling political appointments to her fundraisers who will then make money lobbying and working in the industry they regulated.  It's nauseating just to think about it.

Obama's plan is very different.  I was on a call yesterday where the campaign's wonky advisers explained that political appointees will have to pledge not to lobby the government after their term is over.  His plan covers media consolidation, pushing for more localism and diverse ownership requirements.  It stakes out a wireless spectrum owned and operated by the public, with clear openness requirements.  His FCC will define broadband as broadband, instead of playing corrupt telecom games.  And I'm convinced that no one will be stronger on net neutrality than Obama, who signed onto the net neutrality bill as one of his first actions in the Senate.

The Obama campaign and Obama himself get these issues on a very fundamental level.  Instead of nonsensical worries about violence on TV marring the children, Obama takes privacy very seriously in his plan.  Instead of ludicrous discussions of fake public-private partnerships around failed models of broadband deployment that dance around net neutrality, Obama is clear and forceful on the issue.

It's really a generational split here.  Obama gets, on a gut level, the importance of the internet and the open culture that has created much of our wealth and opportunity.  Clinton is entirely about a 1970s and 1980s suburbanized corrupt form of politics, where you give everything important to industry while demagoguing on issues like violence on TV for the children (doing nothing about it, of course).  It's an entirely fake and disgusting model of engagement on the media reform and internet freedom agenda.

Now, I could see Clinton changing her mind on these issues, of course.  Mostly Clinton has been silent on media issues, preferring to make no decisions on any of it, or at least keeping what decisions should be made to herself and her close circle.  She is also a net neutrality supporter, so she's obviously aware of the fight.  It's just that, when a top-down media world comes into contact with an open source model of media, she's probably going to take the side of the top-downers.  It's how she thinks and who funds her.  It's how the Clintons did it in the 1990s, and I see no evidence that has changed.

I'll also note that Obama hasn't made these arguments in his campaign, and he should.  The Burmese government shutting down openness, new internet-enabled churches, the empowering nature of broadband access, labor disputes and poor media coverage - all of these are stories that he needs to tell.  Obama has put out the right policies, now he needs to make them come alive.  Obama has  alluded to a new world with his new and exciting policy platform, but he has not yet spelled it out in more than simply smart policy.  He should tell these stories of radical openness, because they are alive with potential and excitement, and they are what he grasps.

Matt Stoller :: Clinton versus Obama on a 2009 Media Agenda

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Ouch (0.00 / 0)
Sorry Hillary.  I pity the fool who gets Stoller's guns aimed at them, and this time it looks like its you.

We all know you were not leaning towards Clinton (0.00 / 0)
Could you do more of a comparison between Obama and, say, Edwards and/or Dodd? You previously expressed support for Edwards' plan, but there's no discussion of it here.

Join us at the Missouri community blog Show Me Progress!

good point (0.00 / 0)
Edwards and Obama have very similar plans, but the difference is that Edwards has been more outspoken on the issue while having much less 'depth' of policy networks to actually implement anything.

[ Parent ]
Wasn't Net Neutrality the status quo (0.00 / 0)
because Clinton's FCC mandated it as a necessity of getting the internet to grow initially?

I'm no fan of Bill Clinton's, but on this one issue, I always though that he was pretty forward thinking.  I know that you know more detail on this than I do... how am I wrong?


When you're on board (4.00 / 1)
I guess you're really on board.

the campaign's wonky advisers explained that political appointees will have to pledge not to lobby the government after their term is over.

And who will be enforcing that pledge?  And the penalties for noncompliance aren't what? 

Instead of nonsensical worries about violence on TV marring the children,

As the mother of two, I am concerned about what my children see on TV.  Don't trivialize that as "nonsensical."

It's really a generational split here.

As I said, you're on board, right down to the jargon.

He should tell these stories of radical openness, because they are alive with potential and excitement, and they are what he grasps.

I doubt you'll get much more than potential.


good points (0.00 / 0)
The amount of violence and sex on TV has increased over the last thirty years even as the amount of demagoguing on it has increased.  The reason is that it's a bait and switch, with politician deflecting economic concerns by making culturally dishonest arguments.

Don't want your kids to see violence on TV?  Use the V-chip.  If you don't use the v-chip, ask yourself why you think another Clinton administration would do anything different except set up irrelevant tools that don't work or matter instead of addressing genuine concerns about cultural or economic instability.


[ Parent ]
I want my MTV (4.00 / 1)
I knew your hostility to Clinton would come down to mom taking the TV away.

I owned an ISP from 1994 through 2006, what we did was not possible without "the 1990s model of telecom deregulation" that Bill Clinton and Al Gore pushed through. It was a compromise, sure, but it made a public Internet possible in this country, and it was quickly copied by countries around the world. The Bush administration has enormously set back our progress, and it has made providing competitive broadband Internet access to the public financially untenable. No doubt Obama would try to change that, but the people advising Clinton did change it, and they know how to do it again.

Forgive me if I don't find your grasp of telecoms issues compelling, your opinions appear to be driven by hostility to the concerns of families with children.


open access (0.00 / 0)
There was actually a split between the Clinton political people and his policy people.  The latter are with Obama, and the former are with Hillary.

Lots of stuff happened in the 1990s, so without getting into specifics I can't address your hostile generic complaint.  Specifically, the evisceration of open access and relaxation of media ownership requirements were deeply problematic and led to the consolidation we deal with today.


[ Parent ]
details? (0.00 / 0)
Careful not to choke while swallowing campaign spin (all the good foreign policy, telecoms, etc. people are with us, all the bad ones are with them).

I've had a chance to read Obama's tech fact sheet. Given your description I was surprised to see 10% of it addressed "nonsensical worries about violence on TV marring the children." I also noticed a whole page of weasel words on IP protection at the end. Too bad he can't come out forcefully against the Mickey Mouse protection act, but what do you expect from the guy funded by Geffen. At least he is not worse than any other Democrat.

Otherwise I see a lot of sensible proposals to preserve net neutrality and expand coverage and innovation. I don't see anything very different from what Clinton has already said in the campaign. Where can I find more details about Obama's plan  that actually differentiate him from Clinton?


[ Parent ]
differences (0.00 / 0)
Clinton hasn't mentioned net neutrality in her campaign.  Connect America, the centerpiece of her telecom strategy, is industry-written and ineffective.

I have good sources on this, you ought to delve deeper.


[ Parent ]
Net Neutrality? (0.00 / 0)
Google found a mention for me. I didn't claim she is making it a centerpiece of her campaign, of course neither is Obama. He mentions it to the people who are interested.

[ Parent ]
Gore was the progressive on comm policy (0.00 / 0)
I'd like to see Clinton respond with substance and specifics to Obama's tech policy proposal. 

I think its important to remember that Gore and his old friend Reed Hundt were the primary drivers of pro-Internet policy in the Clinton Administration. 

As I see it, Sen. Clinton has a ways to go to demonstrate she's a real progressive on these issues.  Standing up to telcos and broadcasters isn't an easy thing to do politically, but it is necessary to achieve progressive policies in areas where their corporate interests are not well aligned with the national interest.  That will take real courage and a clear vision of a complex and fundamental sector that impacts virtually every other sector of American society.  Obama's tech proposals seem to reflect these qualities.  I hope Clinton steps up and does the same.


[ Parent ]
Gore and Hundt (0.00 / 0)
I remember Gore and Hundt's role in expanding Internet access very well from the '90s. That is why I take such exception to the "1990s model of telecom deregulation" smear. I also note that Hundt has maxed out to both campaigns.

Clinton has addressed many of these specifics in her speeches at Carnegie Mellon and at Women@google. I would like to see both of them go further, and specifically address anti-trust actions against monopolies like Verizon, Comcast and Microsoft, but I'm not holding my breath. As far as I can tell any of the top Democratic candidates are good enough on these issues.


[ Parent ]
Thanks for the links (0.00 / 0)
I'll check them out.  You may be right about "good enough" on these issues, but I'd like to see "very good," given  the potential I see here, and the challenges and entrenched interests likely to be encountered on the path to realizing that potential.

[ Parent ]
find a statement on net neutrality (0.00 / 0)
She has pointedly not made it an issue in the campaign.

[ Parent ]
I'm impressed by Obama's tech policy (0.00 / 0)
I've been disappointed with Obama since he launched his campaign, but was quite impressed by his "technology and innovation" proposals.  It suggests that he and his advisors appreciate the value and importance of the Internet and communication policy.

And while some commenters may take issue with how Matt portrayed the relative importance of issues, its worth noting that Obama's proposal includes a substantial section entitled "Protecting Our Children While Preserving the First Amendment." I like the idea that he linked these two issues together, which seems like an honest approach.

I also tend to agree with Matt that what the FCC needs is a chairman with a vision in sync with the potentials and priorities laid out in Obama's policy outline...not one that's considered a friend of broadcasters.  As I see it, the broadcast industry taken as a whole represents one of the main barriers to implementing progressive policies in the communications field, particularly with regard to spectrum policy.

One of the problems facing the FCC during the Clinton era was that one of the three Dems was James Quello, a longtime friend of broadcasters (and, if I remember correctly, an ex-broadcaster himself) who, while Democrat in name, tended to vote with the Republican minority.  This, plus the Republican control of the House made things tough on FCC chairman Reed Hundt, who was struggling to facilitate a very complex and heavily lobbied and litigated transition from legacy regulation to a more competitive and Internet-based industry. 

In light of Obama's seemingly appealing and progressive (and potentially transformational) vision of communication and technology policy, I'm more comfortable with some other aspects of him as a candidate that strike me as less appealing.  I'd love to see him follow up on this, and continue to link these tech issues to broader policy issues and national priorities. 

As I see it, truly progressive approaches to communication and energy policy are key foundational and enabling elements that can support progressive change across a wide range of issues.  For that reason, any candidate that convinces me that they "get" this is likely to win my support.  Without these elements, we are, in key respects, fighting other political battles and approaching other vital national needs with one hand tied behind our back.


There is a difference... (0.00 / 0)
I am a mother of a 10 year old, and I understand being concerned about what my daughter sees on TV.....but it doesn't even compare to how important Net Neutrality is for her future.  I can control what she watches and talk to her about violent/sexist/oppressive content.  I can teach her to anaylze and process information.

But if she is only getting the violent, oppressive, controlled message, and has NO access to other viewpoints and dissent - well then she is screwed.  She won't be able to make good, informed decisions without open debate.

Do you understand the difference??  We have control over what our children watch AND how they process information.  It is called parenting.  Yes we should be concerned with the horrible crap out there......but making sure that the internet stays open and accessible for our children (now and when they become adults) is a much bigger issue.

So I would make the case that Obama's concerns regarding media consolidation and net neutrality are more important to us parents, then Clinton's issues with violent and sexual content in the media.


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