We interrupt our normal discussions of broadband policy, mapping, copyright law, intellectual property and our other topics of interest for a special public service announcement”
“Are you Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, one of the Facebookers who joined the Demand the TERMINATION of Communist Czars in our White House: Mark Lloyd campaign. Are you one of the #firemarklloyd Twitter brigade? If so, this message is for you. Your attacks on Mark Lloyd are groundless, i.e. at variance with actual facts. They are stupid. They are embarrassing. Knock it off. Thank you.” We understand the language may be a bit crude and direct, but in order to communicate properly, one must use the language the targets of the message understand and are familiar with.
Think of any number of cowboy movies (The Magnificent Seven) or even motorcycle gang movies, (The Wild One with Marlon Brando but without Brando’s attempt at redemption) in which the ignorant, low-rent, know-nothing thugs bad guys ride into town and randomly wreak havoc on a generally peaceful populace for no good reason other than that they can. That’s what’s happening here.
Who are the leaders of this pack? Beck and Savage are riding the lead bikes, with a horde of Twits behind them who are carrying out Beck’s instructions to “FIND EVERYTHING YOU CAN” (his capitals) on, among others, Lloyd, Cass Sunstein, the professor nominated to be the new head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Policy at the Office of Management and Budget, and Carol Browner, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency now working at the White House on climate change.
Some background is in order. Mark Lloyd is a distinguished member of the telecommunications community. He is a former journalist who turned to law and scholarly pursuits, casting a particularly skeptical eye on media concentration and its effects. He has been affiliated with any number of worthy organizations, most recently with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Center for American Progress.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced on July 29 that Lloyd had been named associate general counsel and chief diversity officer. As a rule, it’s not that big a deal to become an associate general counsel in an independent regulatory agency. It’s a nice job with some potentially interesting work, but all things being equal, hardly the equivalent of, say, a presidential chief of staff, or even of an FCC commissioner. The FCC release said Lloyd, and others, “will collaborate on the policies and legal framework necessary to expand opportunities for women, minorities, and small businesses to participate in the communications marketplace.” In other words, Lloyd and others will make sure that broadband policy, for example, leads to improvements for everyone – from rural areas and urban areas alike.
Under Beck’s attack, however, Lloyd joined the elite ranks as a government “czar” who will lead the attack against the radio industry generally, and conservative radio specifically. My goodness. Lloyd would be the most powerful associate general counsel of the FCC in history if Beck were right. Alas, he is not, but that didn’t stop Beck from claiming, “Radio is under attack” on his Aug. 14 program. One of Lloyd’s chief weapons, Beck said, was that Lloyd has advocated that private broadcasters would have to “pay licensing fees equal to their total operating costs.” Conservative radio, in particular, would have to pay a “crippling $250 million fine.”
That money would be used to fund “public broadcasters who are competitors of private broadcasters,” Beck said, elaborating Lloyd would “force broadcasters to fund public broadcasters dollar for dollar” equal to the stations’ “gross operating budget” each year in order to get a license. His guest for that segment, Sean Motley of the Media Research Center, agreed with Beck that radio couldn’t survive under such circumstances, calling Lloyd “the enforcer” of evil concepts like “localism.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, but none of this is in any way connected to reality. Lloyd is an advisory attorney who holds no decision-making authority. He is no czar, any more than any of the other “czars” targeted by Beck’s Bad Boys are “czars.” He has no enforcement responsibilities. His job is to look over policies to make sure that all parts of the country, urban, rural, or wherever, benefit from all FCC policies. If that’s evil, make the most of it.
The canard about emptying out the treasuries of radio stations was spread by an Aug. 13 story from the Cybercast News Service (CNS), an affiliate of the Media Research Center, which employed Beck’s “expert” guest, Sean Motley. The headline for the story in question story read: “FCC’s Chief Diversity Officer Wants Private Broadcasters to Pay a Sum Equal to Their Total Operating Costs to Fund Public Broadcasting.”
The story, by reporter Matt Cover, started with this: “Mark Lloyd, newly appointed Chief Diversity Officer of the Federal Communications Commission, has called for making private broadcasting companies pay licensing fees equal to their total operating costs to allow public broadcasting outlets to spend the same on their operations as the private companies do. Lloyd presented the idea in his 2006 book, Prologue to a Farce: Communications and Democracy in America, published by the University of Illinois Press.”
How can we say this politely? No, Messrs. Cover and Beck and the rest. Lloyd never proposed any such thing. Ever. Anywhere. At any time, and certainly not in that book. Was that simple enough for you?
Here’s what Lloyd proposed. In a 2007 paper, “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio,” Lloyd and six co-authors (none of whom has ascended to czar-ness) brought out the decades-old concept of having commercial radio support public radio if commercial radio didn’t want to uphold its public interest responsibilities. The $250 million figure Beck mentioned came from that report, which estimated that such a fee would produce between $100 million and $250 million, of what would happen if commercial stations had to pay between one percent to five percent of their revenues into a fund to support public radio, which would then “support local news and public affairs programming and to cover controversial and political issues in a fair and balanced manner.”
Is $250 million a large number? Not small, but let’s look at what it would buy. For one thing, Glenn Beck is on target to make $18 million a year, which includes a piece of his $50 million, five-year deal for his radio show alone. According to SNL Kagan, local TV and radio stations are expected to bill about $34 billion in sales this year.
Note the emphasis on local programming. Beck and his other radio cohorts are syndicated by big companies, like Beck’s Premiere Networks, a Clear Channel subsidiary. They aren’t local, so they might not like the idea that they could be replaced by home-grown talent.
Beck was only one of those piling on. Michael Savage called Lloyd “a piece of garbage,” and said diversity was “a key word for KGB,” the former Soviet Union’s secret police, in a show broadcast the same day as Beck’s. A few days before Beck’s show, Fox News put up a story about Lloyd’s supposed campaign against conservative radio stations. Even though Lloyd himself wrote an article titled “Forget the Fairness Doctrine,” the same Motley who came on Beck’s show said that Lloyd had a secret plan to bring back the Fairness Doctrine anyway.
Fox complained, “While he said he was not interested in reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, he called for ‘equal opportunity employment practices,’ ‘local engagement’ and ‘license challenges’ to rectify the that perceived imbalance” in talk radio. The report Lloyd and others wrote found that 91 percent of talk radio was conservative. Granted, concepts such as “fairness” and “equality” and “localism” are anathema to conservatives. (On the other hand, if radio were 91% progressive, it’s hard to believe Beck wouldn’t be screaming about the lack of “fairness.”) But they aren’t to progressives (or, as Savage called progressives, “communists”), who believe in the bedrock of local broadcasting, equality in opportunity and fairness. Note: “play fair” was the second item on the list, “All I Really Wanted To Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” by Robert Fulghum. I guess Savage, Beck and the rest missed class that day.
As much as we want to defend Mark Lloyd, the larger picture is that he’s simply a larger pawn in a bigger, mismatched game. Beck and his posse are pros at attack politics. This Administration, sadly, is not. Here’s the account of the FCC’s response to Fox’s inquiry (and we give them credit for asking for it): “In a statement, the commission said: ‘The FCC agenda does not include reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine or in any way censoring speech based on political views and opinions. … The FCC's interest in promoting diversity goes back to core principles underlying the First Amendment. Our nation benefits from a vibrant marketplace of ideas representing different points of view. [Lloyd] will help ensure that the communications field is competitive and generates widespread opportunities.”
Considering the ferocity of the attacks, that’s not much. But at least, so far, Lloyd still has his job. That’s more than can be said for Van Jones, the green-jobs adviser who was Beck’s first victim, and Yosi Sargant, a communications officer for the National Endowment for the Arts who got tossed overboard when the right wing came after him.
The Administration can’t solely depend on outsiders like Think Progress and documentarian Sue Wilson to defend Lloyd. They have to learn that human sacrifice is a no-no. When they defend someone, they should do it with vigor and intensity and in person, while realizing that the attacker calling for scalps is someone who famously called President Obama “a racist” who has “a deep-seated hatred of white people” and as a result has now lost close to 60 advertisers for his show on Fox (even if those companies still advertise elsewhere on Fox.)
Mark Lloyd is a target and a pawn in a larger game. We can only hope he doesn’t become a victim as well.