Spin Control in D.C.

Public citizen has released a handy guide to help keep journalists like yours trulies from becoming shills for the deregulatory denizens — ISPs seeking network neutrality regulatory rollbacks, for example — that the group is doing battle with.

The nonprofit group considers it a handy guide for those covering big business, or at least that’s the pitch.

“Regulated industries spend billions every year to influence the media — much of it aimed at misleading the public,” Public Citizen says. “This guide is designed to help reporters push back on the corporate spin, avoid lending unearned credibility to opponents of regulation and cover the issues without spreading misinformation.”

In “Covering Regs,” or “How to Cover Regulation Without Swallowing the Corporate Spin” (shades of Dr. Strangelove), the group includes helpful tips like “deregulation is a form of corruption” (The Wire: Hmmmm.) and “attacking regulation is a smokescreen for industries with something to hide.” (The Wire: It can be, so it is a fair point, though less so as a generalization.)

Under the “getting ahead of the story when public protections are in danger” category, it says: “The startling public outrage that followed the repeal of broadband privacy protections in April 2017 happened because the public hadn’t heard about the looming repeal. By the time the issue received widespread media coverage, it was too late for the universal and bipartisan public outrage to make any difference.” (The Wire: The outrage was definitely there, but there was misinformation that should be challenged.)

The list of lobbyist “misinformation” read as though plucked from FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s defense of his net neutrality rule deregulation. That included:

• “Opponents of regulation always say the sky is falling, and they’ve always been wrong.” Pai calls his net neutrality critics “Chicken Littles.”

• “Blaming regulation for job losses or harming our economy is a red herring.” Pai has long said that the 2015 Open Internet rules he was repealing had depressed investment and thus employment.

• One thing Pai would likely agree on is Public Citizen’s admonition that “regulators deserve respect, not ridicule,” though the group appeared to confine that respect to the “most regulators” who are either “nonpartisan scientists or technical experts.”

“Calling regulators ‘unelected bureaucrats’ and using other derogatory terms to characterize regulation is as insulting and offensive as calling serious journalism ‘fake news,’” it said.

Pai, for his part, was subject to not only ridicule but slurs and personal attacks for wanting to reclassify ISPs out from under Title II-based regulations that he argued would, well, hurt investment and that were backed by “sky is falling” doomsday predictors.

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.