Annoy the Media

FCC Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell's often self-deprecating sense of humor was on display in Washington Monday night.

At the Media Institute's awards banquet at the Four Seasons hotel in Washington, he gave a keynote that balanced graciousness to his host's celebration of free speech with his desire to emphasize the belief that government stands ready to regulate content if the industry doesn't do a good enough job of self-regulating.

While that did not draw raves from the crowd, his free-market championship did, so it was probably pretty much a wash for some in the Washington audience, which included lobbyists, lawyers, business leaders, free speech drum-bangers, and scribes.

Of his glowing intro–by former FCC Chairman Dick Wiley–McDowell said: "Thank you for that eloquent and very generous…piece of fiction, actually. you read it just the way I wrote it for you."

Some more laugh lines from his speech:

He says he tries to avoid answering the question: What is your pet issue? "I try to explicitly dodge that question. Tthat is versus implicitly dodging questions, which is my preferred method."

McDowell said he had adopted the "poor beleaguered private sector" as one of his causes, saying that sometimes he thinks the sector "at least deserves a foster parent." OK, I laughed, though I'm not sure anyone else did.

"My very first vote as an FCC commissioner on June 8," he said "was to authorize TV Marti, to give them more power to send their messages of freedom and hope into Cuba. Shortly thereafter Fidel Castro fell Ill."

McDowell said that as an advance man for President George H. W. Bush in 1992 he felt the president wasn't being treated fairly by the press, so he came up with the bumper sticker that became a favorite stump speech prop: "Annoy the Media: Re-elect Bush." Of course, neither happened. He lost and the media was delighted…to have a fresh story to report on in Bill Clinton."

He then got in a shot at President Clinton and the press: "A few months later after his health care plan was scuttled and the Blackhawk Down incident in Somalia pulled his poll numbers down, the Clinton White House co-opted my slogan with their own bumper sticker: 'Annoy the media: Support President Clinton.' Either way it seems that someone is always trying to annoy the media. Or is it that the media is annoying us?"

For the second time in less than a week, he invoked General Cornwallis' surrender at the battle of Yorktown. Last week it was to praise a French telecommunicator–the French helped us out in the battle. This week it was to proclaim his love of freedom, symbolized by that world-changing surrender, which occurred on Oct. 19, he said.

By John Eggerton