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Missing in D.C.

When Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) produced yet another missing media-ownership report—this one on radio ownership—FCC Chairman Kevin Martin quickly agreed to call for an Inspector General investigation. This followed a TV-ownership report Boxer brandished last week at Martin’s nomination hearing, which she said was also not seen by the public.

Meanwhile, former FCC Chairman Michael Powell and his Media Bureau chief, Ken Ferree, weighed in, saying neither report, both of which fueled concerns about media consolidation, was quashed for political reasons.

Echoing Martin, Powell said last week that he was not aware of either report, that not all reports get published and that the ownership issues had been thoroughly vetted anyway.

“I was unaware of this unpublished report,” says Powell. “Such reports are commonplace at the FCC.” There is apparently no affirmative government record-keeping obligation that working papers have to be published.

Ferree explains that there are probably thousands of pages of material from lawyers and economists that never see the light of day for any number of reasons, including management of resources, “but it would not be because of the results,” he says. “There are lots of things that never go out the door.”

“I am certain of two things,” says Powell. “That I would not tolerate killing a report solely because someone did not politically support the outcome” and that there is ample evidence on the public record supporting and opposing every conceivable view on this hotly debated topic.

“Any conjecture to the contrary,” he says, “is wrong.”

Did Bush Stifle Scientist On Global Warming?

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif) last week was touting internal Commerce Department e-mails suggesting the administration was preventing a government scientist who did not toe the line on its view of global warming and hurricanes from appearing on CNBC.

CNBC had, in October 2005, asked for an interview with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Scientist Tom Knutson on whether global warming was contributing to the number or intensity of hurricanes. NOAA is under the Department of Commerce.

In a letter to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Waxman cites an e-mail in which a Commerce press officer, after learning that Knutson believes there is some connection between the two, responds to the interview request—forwarded from the NOAA—by asking, “Why can’t we have one of the other guys, then?”

Knutson told the Wall Street Journal in February 2006 that he had felt censored by the administration for his view, Waxman says; the administration says it did not censor its scientists. The interview request was ultimately denied, but Knutson’s views were made part of NOAA’s testimony to the House Government Reform Committee in July.

“If accurate,” Waxman says, “this e-mail exchange appears to be an example of press officials in the Department of Commerce blocking federal scientists from discussing their research with the news media.”

He has asked for all internal documents relating to the government’s position on global warming and for an explanation of how Commerce decides which scientists get to speak with the press on the issue.

“We’re proud of our scientists and the great work they do,” says Commerce spokesman Richard Mills. “The role of our public affairs office like other organizations is to ensure that the media get accurate and thorough and timely information, that other officials are aware of what is being said, and that there are no surprises.”

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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.