Preston Padden: ISPs Complicit in Smear Campaign Against FCC Nominee Gigi Sohn
Former Fox, Disney lobbyist tells Congress to ignore ‘tabloid trash’ and vote to confirm
Citing a smear campaign to continue to prevent Gigi Sohn from being seated as the fifth FCC commissioner, former Fox and ABC/Disney executive Preston Padden has written the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee to call out those tactics and advocate for Sohn, with whom he is not aligned politically.
Padden also said he had been in contact with Fox Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch, an opponent of the Democratic nominee. He said he was able to assuage Murdoch’s “misgivings” about Sohn’s nomination by pointing out that she was helpful in Padden’s efforts as a top Fox exec to secure the FCC waivers needed to start the Fox network and “fend off” fierce lobbying from ABC, CBS and NBC in the process.
One of the knocks on Sohn from her conservative critics — Sohn is a progressive Democrat — was over tweets critical of Fox News she posted when a private citizen, prior to serving as a counselor to Obama-era Federal Communications Commission chair Tom Wheeler. Sohn has said she regretted some of her word choices.
Also: Sohn Supporters Call Out Dithering Dems
Padden called Sohn a “superbly qualified” nominee who should get confirmed ASAP. He also asked that the letter be read into the record of a potential third nomination hearing on Sohn, who was nominated by President Joe Biden to fill the vacant third Democratic seat more than two years ago.
Padden said he was afraid Sohn was ”in danger of falling victim to the worst, and most cynical and baseless smear campaign ever waged against a nominee to serve on the FCC."
Just this past weekend, a story from the U.K.’s Daily Mail about Sohn was picked up by conservative U.S. outlets including Breitbart and Newsmax. Padden cited it as the latest in a string of accusations that he suggest were the lowest of the low.
“The press stories ginned up by Ms. Sohn’s opponents are beneath scurrilous and are beneath the dignity of this Committee,” he wrote. “For example, one Daily Mail online story (not a Murdoch publication) began with a picture of Ms. Sohn juxtaposed next to a salacious picture of a sex worker with whom Ms. Sohn has absolutely no connection. This is ‘Tabloid Trash’ at its worst, all brought to you, I believe, by agents of some of the country’s biggest Cable Companies and ISPs.”
Also: Sohn Tells Congress She Will Be Fair, Impartial
Sohn has long advocated for supporting new programming networks and voices to provide competition to established players, including conservative networks like Newsmax, whose founder has previously weighed in in support of Sohn. In fact, in the video embedded in Newsmax’s online story on the Daily Mail article was an interview with Chip Pickering, a former Republican Congressman and current chairman of competitive carrier lobby group INCOMPAS, talking about why he supported Sohn and how helpful she had been in promoting the “little guys” over dominant players.
Below is the full text of Paddden’s letter of support:
Chair Cantwell, Ranking Member Cruz and Members of the Committee:
I respectfully request that this letter be included in the record of the hearing that will be held on the nomination of Gigi Sohn to be a Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission. Ms. Sohn’s politics are to the left of mine, but she is a superbly qualified and experienced nominee who should be confirmed as soon as possible.
I have the greatest respect for this Committee and its Members before whom I have testified many times as President of the ABC Television Network, a founding executive of the Fox Broadcasting Company and as the head of Government Relations for both News Corporation/Fox (Murdoch) and The Walt Disney Company. I fear that this esteemed Committee, like Ms. Sohn, is in danger of falling victim to the worst, and most cynical and baseless smear campaign ever waged against a nominee to serve on the FCC. Ms. Sohn’s only sin is that she roots for the underdog and for consumers. As a result, some of the dominant Cable TV companies and Internet Service Providers have stooped to lows never before seen to smear Ms. Sohn. They correctly fear that she would be a vote to require them to compete fairly and to respect consumers.
Ms. Sohn’s opponents have planted article after article alleging that she is against Native Americans, against Hispanics, against rural communities, against police and that she is connected with illicit sex workers. It’s all rubbish! A total of 375 organizations, companies, elected officials and local governments, including numerous Tribes, Hispanic organizations and public safety officials have voiced their support for Ms. Sohn’s nomination!
The press stories ginned up by Ms. Sohn’s opponents are beneath scurrilous and are beneath the dignity of this Committee. For example, one Daily Mail online story (not a Murdoch publication) began with a picture of Ms. Sohn juxtaposed next to a salacious picture of a sex worker with whom Ms. Sohn has absolutely no connection. This is “Tabloid Trash” at its worst, all brought to you, I believe, by agents of some of the country’s biggest Cable Companies and ISPs.
I worked for Rupert Murdoch for seven years and secured for him waivers of FCC Rules that stood in the way of the launch of Fox Broadcasting Company — the long-sought fourth free-over-the-air TV Network. Recently Mr. Murdoch sent me a note that expressed misgivings about Ms. Sohn’s nomination. I replied by reminding him (actually, he may never have known) that because Ms. Sohn fights for underdogs (which Fox certainly was in its early days), and because she saw the pro-consumer benefits of a fourth network, she was very helpful to our efforts to fend off fierce lobbying attacks from the three established networks and to secure the waivers that we needed. And I advised him that Ms. Sohn’s interest in requiring dominant Cable and ISP “pipe” companies to play fairly could be helpful to a company like his that has important content assets, but no bottleneck “pipes.” Mr. Murdoch responded that he stood corrected in his view of Ms. Sohn.
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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.