Deception And Distrust: The FCC Under Kevin Martin

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce just released a report on the activities of Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin. The report, titled “Deception and Distrust” (PDF) chronicles an agency rife with abuse, manipulation, intimidation, and incompetence. The level of corruption would be shocking if it hadn’t come from the same administration that gave us Alberto Gonzales, Michael Brown, Scooter Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, etc. The introduction to the report stated that…

This investigation was prompted by allegations to the effect that Chairman Kevin J. Martin has abused FCC procedures by manipulating or suppressing reports, data, and information. Allegations of a broken process at the FCC came from current and former FCC employees, telecommunications industry representatives, and even other commissioners and were often reported in the press.

The report detailed Martin’s attempts to mislead members of Congress by withholding studies that didn’t produce the results he preferred. Then he forced commission staff to rewrite the studies to reverse the findings, even though the data did not support his conclusions. Uncooperative colleagues were dealt with harshly. The result was a collapse of morale in an environment the report calls “a climate of fear.”

Chairman Martin has forced the retirement of senior FCC staff. He has also directed the involuntary transfer of senior staff to lesser positions, often without explanation or notice – a process that was commonly called being “Martinized” or “blue-boxed” – because they disagreed with his policies or agenda…

Under Martin’s dictatorial rule, employees were instructed not to talk to colleagues within the agency without permission. This gag rule was so comprehensive that they were also ordered not to talk to employees at other Federal agencies. Martin further fortified his control by installing a hand-picked Inspector General, Kent Nilsson, who was a close associate, insuring that there would be no independent oversight of his misdeeds. Nilsson himself is alleged to have violated agency procedures repeatedly according to the report.

Kevin Martin is a charter member of the Loyal Order of Bushies. He was on the front lines of the Florida 2000 battle to prevent votes from being counted. His wife Kathie has worked the PR brigade for both Dick Cheney and Bush. For his entire tenure at the FCC, Martin has advocated on behalf of the beleaguered corporations whom he believed were hamstrung by regulations that prevented them from dominating markets and from growing into ever larger monopolies. And now we learn that his administration was modeled on the Stalinist school of management and ethics.

There is a certain irony that this report was released on the same day that Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was charged with multiple counts of corruption in office. While Blagojevich’s alleged crimes are thoroughly repulsive, Martin’s crimes are far more serious with longer lasting consequences. Nonetheless, I have not seen a single report about this on any of the television news outlets.

Barack Obama will have an opportunity to replace Martin shortly after his inauguration, and it will not come a moment too soon. But that won’t stop the rantings from rightist outposts who believe that Obama has secret plans to invoke censorship on conservative talk radio. It won’t stop the pro-monopoly lobby from disparaging common sense, and popularly supported, initiatives to bring more local and independent voices into the public square.

The only way to stop these assaults on the First Amendment freedoms of speech and the press, is for the people to take seriously the threat posed by multinational media enterprises whose sole allegiance is to their bottom line. And, of course, we also need to address threats posed by the sort of political cronyism that produced Kevin Martin, who did for the FCC what Katrina did for FEMA.