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TIS 2019: Fleischer: Activism Critical to Washington Success

Chicago -- Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer urged small cable operators to keep up the pressure on Washington legislators on key issues facing the industry, telling an audience at The Independent Show that their continued activism is key to their success.

“If you’re not involved, you’re going to lose,” Fleischer said in a Q&A with ACA Connects president and CEO Matt Polka, adding that particularly with complicated issues like net neutrality, few members in the House and Senate fully understand the issues that are weighing on the industry. “The only way they will believe in you is if they see you, they hear you and they feel you. Activism is at the heart of what you have to do.”

Earlier, Fleischer gave his take on the successful campaign of President Donald Trump -- he said that unlike Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton, Trump appealed to blue-collar workers who believed they were being ignored by Washington -- and predicted that the 2020 presidential election will have record turnout.

Fleischer went to bat for small cable operators who have endured criticism that they shouldn’t be trusted with something as vital as the internet, adding that the actions of smaller operators speak louder than words.

Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer (l) chats with ACA Connects president and CEO Matt Polka (r) at The Independent Show

Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer (l) chats with ACA Connects president and CEO Matt Polka (r) at The Independent Show

“If ever there was an issue where the attacks on your position were exaggerated, it’s this one,” Fleischer said of the net neutrality debate. “As if the FCC’s ruling destroyed the internet? I do think you have history on your side to show that the opposition was wrong. That’s a good starting point.”

Fleischer suggested that cable operators continue to make the case of providing what consumers want, stressing that “superb” customer service is essential.

“If people call you the local hometown provider and they think they are falling into the same type of consumer responsiveness that they get from the giant cable providers, then you haven't differentiated yourself. If you believe in your small town, in touch, local community base, the people who answer your phone and help your customers have got to provide that service, otherwise it rings hollow,” he said.

Fleischer, who had his own disagreements with reporters during his White House tenure, touched on some of President Trump’s criticisms of the press, adding that his assertion that the press is an “enemy of the people” is unwarranted.

“No, the press is not the enemy of the people,” Fleischer said. “Every President needs to have their feet held to the fire. ...They are often liberal reporters who make mistakes. President Trump has proved something, that he can push back, he can fight back in a way that [former Republican Presidential candidates] John McCain and Mitt Romney did not. But I also believe that there are bounds and there must be civility in how we carry out our arguments in the White House and as Americans. I’ll just say that they’re liberals and they’re wrong. I won’t say they are enemies of the people. ”

Fleischer also decried the absence of White House briefings, but said reporters shouldn’t miss them because they have something better -- access to the President.

“I give tremendous credit to President Trump for going out there and being his own press secretary,” Fleischer said. “He takes questions every day. That’s a reporter’s dream come true. As much as reporters complain, as much as they hate the President and the President hates them, and there’s this terrible hostility, he gives them the No. 1 most important thing they need and that is access to him to ask whatever is on their mind.”

Earlier, Fleischer said he would bring back the briefings, but not put them on TV.

“It shouldn’t be a TV show,” Fleischer said. “The briefing should be a normal conveyance of governmental information to reporters with questions so that reporters don’t posture and argue back and stand their ground so they can become famous and get Twitter followers. Take it off the TV and just make it a good old fashioned briefing.”