Lloyd: I'm Not Out To Get Limbaugh Or Beck

FCC Chief Diversity Officer Mark Lloyd says that he has gotten hate mail and death threats after what he calls an "incredible right-wing smear campaign."

According to a copy of his speech to the Media Access Project at a conference Monday on the future of journalism, Lloyd said his mission at the FCC was not to restore the fairness doctrine or to banish conservative talkers from
the airwaves.

"Allow me to clear away some mud," he said, pointing out that MAP President Andrew Schwartzman first warned him of the possible right-wing backlash.

"I am not at the FCC to restore the Fairness Doctrine through the front door or the back door, or to carry out a secret plot funded by George Soros to get rid of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck or any other conservative talk show host. I am not at the FCC to remove anybody, whatever their color, from power. I am not a supporter of Hugo Chavez."

Instead, he said: "I am an Associate General Counsel and the Chief Diversity Officer, I operate under the direction of the General Counsel to provide legal advice to the Commission. As with the General Counsel’s Office generally, my portfolio cuts across the other offices and bureaus at the FCC, but with a focus on diversity."

He also points out that, like most others at the commission, he has been focused on broadband.

Lloyd came under fire from conservative bloggers and commentators, and some Republican legislators, over his writings as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he was co-author of a June 2007 paper, "The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio."

During an FCC oversight hearing in September, one Republican legislator said he was concerned Lloyd would become a government speech czar that would achieve fairness doctrine-like results via new rules and license challengers on broadcasters.

But FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the commission's top diversity executive would be concentrating on broadband and would not be dealing with FCC broadcast license issues. He also said he would make him available for congressional questioning (adding, just as he would any other staffer).

Lloyd says that his writings have been warped by his opponents to fit their attacks: "[M]ost of what I have seen are warped and simplistic distortions of what I’ve said or written," he said. But he also said the distortions have been successful. "Any careful reader of my writing will know that my focus, my long-standing interest, is not Limbaugh, Beck or [Lou] Dobbs, it is not the right wing haters. My focus has long been the health of the American republic and what I see as the central role of communications policy in that republic."

In defending Lloyd's hiring, Genachowski said that the agency needed a "broad range of people with different backgrounds" and a "vibrant exchange of ideas internally." (It is a point the chairman's office echoed in a statement last week after hiring resident scholar Stuart Benjamin, whose provocative writings about spectrum had  some broadcasters seeing red.

Lloyd's background is in journalism--stints at CNN, NBC and local stations, he says--but it is not in his job description at the FCC, he added.

But Lloyd says diversity is crucial to journalism, so that the audience has access to a variety of sources, given that there is some bias in all journalists.

And while he may have disavowed the fairness doctrine, which compelled broadcasters to seek out opposing viewpoints on issues of public importance, he also pointed out that the courts have consistently ruled that requiring distribution mechanisms to provide opportunities for speech not controlled by the carrier is not forced speech, but is consistent with the goal of free speech.

Keeping with the theme of carriers, Lloyd suggested those looking for a new model for journalism might look to a large government-run operation, at least for inspiration.  

"We Americans have been wrestling with the problem of what policies to put in place to promote an informed citizenry since the founding of the nation," he said. "Even though Madison believed that communication between North and South might lead to a civil war, even though Madison worked to delay any debate about slavery in Congress, he believed that communication service to all was necessary to establish a more perfect union. The answer Madison and the founders settled on in 1792 was to establish a government run program, a program that dwarfed every other government operation of the time – the Post Office – and to subsidize the distribution of newspapers. I do not suggest that we return to that model, only that we have something to learn from it."

Brent Bozell of the Media Ratings Council, stood by what Lloyd said were distortions of his positions, citing quotes from Lloyd on the MRC Web site in refutation and adding: "It is not necessary for conservatives to ‘distort' or ‘smear' Mark Lloyd. All we have to do is quote him."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.