According to an e-mail obtained by Politico, FCC nominee Nathan Simington actively sought out the help of Fox News last June to push for action on President Trump's effort to get the FCC to regulate social media content in advance of the election.
A Fox spokesperson said that this request, to a writer on the show, did not prompt any coverage of the Sec. 230 issue.
The President has accused Twitter and others of censoring Republican speech, including his own, and wants the FCC to find ways to regulate edge providers' content moderation by modifying or eliminating their current Sec. 230 immunity from legal liability for their moderation of third-party content.
At his confirmation hearing, Simington, a staffer at the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), downplayed his role in a petition seeking such regulation and filed at the by NTIA per a Trump May executive order.
But according to the June e-mail to Fox News, Simington said:
"We hope that there might be some way of engaging with Ms. [Laura] Ingraham on our piece of this issue [the petition]. Any additional support we might be able to obtain could help to get the FCC on board more quickly and thereby ensure a freer, fairer social media landscape going into the elections this fall."
The e-mail suggests the social media regulations are about affecting the election. He says ensuring the "fair" social media landscape "is of concern both to the presidency and also down-ballot."
FCC chairman Ajit Pai did signal the FCC would act on the executive order, but that did not come before the election. Given the outcome, it is unclear if Pai will continue down that path since it would almost certainly be reversed by a Democratic FCC. While Democrats also have issues with Sec. 230, they saw the Trump order as an effort to intimidate what he saw as his enemies in Silicon Valley.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) who threatened to put a hold on Simington's nomination unless he recused himself from any vote on the NTIA petition, told politico that the e-mail showed Simington to be "an active and eager soldier in President Trump’s attempted assault on the First Amendment," and that he would be "demanding that Mr. Simington explain himself in follow-up questions for the record."
Blumenthal also tweeted on the issue Tuesday (Nov. 24): "FCC nominee Nathan Simington’s pitch to Fox News & Laura Ingraham demonstrates he was willing to bully the very agency he’s been nominated to join & do the electoral bidding of the Republican party. Simington must explain himself immediately."
Simington told Blumenthal that he had participated in the writing of the petition and that he would support that effort if confirmed to the FCC, pointing to the FCC general counsel's explanation of why the agency had the authority to weigh in on Section 230. Simington also said he had had conversations with the White House about Sec. 230 when he was being considered for the FCC nomination. He was nominated after President Donald Trump pulled the nomination of Michael O'Rielly after O’Rielly criticized the effort to regulate Section 230 and questioned the FCC's authority to do so.
While he said it was premature to say he would recuse himself, Simington did say he would get the advice of FCC ethics officials on whether he should recuse and follow that advice, whatever it is.
NTIA had not commented on the letter at press time.
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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.