There are so many things wrong with the FCC’s codified “net neutrality” rules, the kindest thing one can say about those responsible is that they were all born yesterday. But criticism of this monstrosity abounds already, and given the potential for it to be wholly or partly undone by the courts or Congress, no further discussion of its many flaws is either timely or necessary.
Just before Christmas, however, John Fund wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal that ought to be required reading for every media and communications mogul in America. Titled “The Net Neutrality Coup,” Fund recounts the role played by a handful of large grant-giving foundations, and the beneficiaries of their largesse (“paid clappers,” in Ted Turner’s immortal phrase) in the promotion of this cynical creation of the “media reform” movement.
Perhaps the greatest value in Fund’s piece is his finding that most of those foundations that provided the lion’s share of funding for net neutrality were also among the biggest sources of funding for the earlier (and even worse) mischief, “campaign finance reform.”
Fund identifies by name a total of six grant-giving foundations and four operating organizations. They are, among the former: the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, the Joyce Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Institute, the Ford Foundation, and the John and Catherine MacArthur Foundation.
The four operating groups are Free Press, Public Knowledge, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and the New America Foundation. What all of these groups – funders and recipients alike – share in common is that, to varying degrees, they are all liberal-leaning, or “progressive,” as they yearn to be called nowadays.
Missing from this list is another billion-dollar grant-giving group – the Knight Foundation – which, through the Knight Commission, has itself peddled net neutrality, along with such pap as the need for greater funding of public broadcasting, and tax credits for investigative journalism. Though we won’t know for sure until its report is issued, the FCC appears to have adopted the Knight Commission’s recommendations as a kind of blueprint in its approach to the commission’s so-called Future of Media initiative.
The reason all of this should be of the greatest importance to everyone, but particularly to titans of media and communications, is simple: The communications policy views of grant-making groups like the Open Society Institute and the Ford Foundation (not to mention Free Press) are inimical to the well being of media and communications companies.
It’s not entirely clear why the “progressive” moneybags’ lavish spending has not incited individuals with different political views, many of whom have amassed great wealth in the media and communications business, to fund non-profit organizations with more pro-business communications policy views. Perhaps it’s because some of them, having gotten theirs and now in retirement, no longer care much what happens to the industry of which they were once a part. Or maybe it’s because many don’t think of themselves, or want others to think of them, as “conservatives,” whatever that means in the context of communications policymaking.
But a likelier explanation is that many fail to understand what a threat to their own and their industry’s welfare some of these groups actually pose. Perhaps because businessmen are very good at lobbying, and understand the ins and outs of PACs, they don’t see the need to engage their critics in the worlds of academia or think tankery.
It’s a mistake, that, because in truth it’s the people who deal in ideas – intellectuals and artists, activists and policy wonks – who are often the engines in the development of policy issues in which legislators and regulators are but the last people to board the train. Witness, for instance, net neutrality.
As John Fund puts it, in the conclusion of his WSJ piece, “So the ‘media reform’ movement paid for research that backed its views, paid activists to promote the research, saw its allies installed in the FCC and other key agencies, and paid for the FCC research that evaluated the research they had already paid for. Now they have their policy. That’s quite a coup.”
The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not necessarily of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.