Comcast has consistently crowed about the volume of individuals and organizations that support the company’s $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable. Of course the company has just as consistently failed to mention how much of this “support” is from people paid to regurgitate pretty much any Comcast dreck-filled missive that comes stumbling down the road. Want funding for a new events center or a “closing the digital divide” photo op? Just leave independent thought at the door and send lawmakers a pre-written form letter with your name or organization’s logo on it.
It doesn’t take much sleuthing to uncover the money trail, because Comcast (and the politicians and groups beholden to it) usually (with some think tank exceptions) don’t bother hiding it. They just outright deny that the money impacts policy positions whatsoever. For example, take reports this week that clearly highlight how Comcast can effectively buy a media sound wall of merger support, then pretend there’s nothing untoward about an army of “consultants,” minority groups, and fauxcademics all paid to effectively be glorified parrots:
“Increased Concentration Does Not Equal Anticompetitive Effect,” Mr. Manne wrote last August, summarizing his submission. He separately wrote pieces in Wired magazine, extolling the virtues of the deal, and through a separate advocacy organization he helps run, called TechFreedom, wrote a blog post that appeared the same day that the deal was announced early last year. Each time, he praised the transaction. But nowhere in these statements does Mr. Manne directly disclose that Comcast is among a small group of donors that finances his nonprofit group, a fact that Mr. Manne confirmed in response to a question late last week. “We are no value to our donors or ourselves unless we maintain our independence and academic rigor,” he said, before adding that “maybe there is some subconscious thing there.”
Yes, surely Comcast’s cash comes associated not with an expectation that you’ll give automated and artificial justification to what’s frequently very anti-consumer and anti-competitive policies, but that you’ll exercise your “independence and academic rigor” and tell Comcast to piss off when you’re approached to help “correct perceptions” about the latest Comcast PR campaign. You see there’s nothing untoward going on here — because we say there’s nothing untoward going on here. We’re all just healthy American patriots busy expressing our First Amendment rights, after all.
That logic was mirrored by Comcast’s top lobbyist David Cohen — who calls himself the company’s “Chief Diversity Officer” to help skirt lobbying rules (I bring that up every time I write about Cohen because to me it just never gets old). Cohen says he’s “offended” by the very idea that Comcast has to pay for its policy support:
“He did not dispute that many of the voices supporting the deal received donations from Comcast. But he said he was offended by the suggestion that their endorsements had been made in return for the financial help. “We have never provided financial support to an organization in exchange for support in a transaction,” he said. “Our support is based on the quality of the work they do in the community.”
Now I’m sure that somewhere there exists a person that actually believes that, but I’d recommend not putting them in charge of your finances (or even lawn care). In Mr. Cohen’s head, this is just another conspiracy contributing to the unfair overall “atmospherics” of anti-Comcast sentiment:
“The atmospherics around our customer service clearly stir some antipathy among some consumers,” Mr. Cohen said. “And it does provide a basis for opponents of the transaction to gin up three-sentence, nonsubstantive communications to the F.C.C. saying that they don’t like Comcast or they don’t like Time Warner Cable.”
That’s a company with arguably the worst customer satisfaction ratings in any industry — one that manufactures support for bad policies out of thin air — trying to claim its horrible reputation is somehow manufactured. It’s still not clear if regulators plan to deny the merger (or approve it with something vaguely-resembling meaningful conditions), but whatever happens it will spell the end of some fantastic entertainment that easily tops anything in Comcast’s channel lineup.