Radical Media Activists at Free Press Coordinated With FCC Commissioner to Write, Place Pro-Net Neutrality Op-Ed

It's always been clear that Free Press, a liberal advocacy group that agitates for what it labels "media reform," has been one of the biggest drivers of the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality agenda—an agenda that paid off last December when the FCC finally passed net neutrality regulations. The group's radicalism has at times been explicit: Its co-founder, Robert McChesney, has written of “the need to promote an understanding of the urgency to assert public control over the media.” And yet despite the agenda of its founder, the group remains quite powerful. Not only does the group have close ties with MoveOn.org, and thus considerable influence with the progressive activist base, it landed a former staffer, Jen Howard, as press secretary in FCC commissioner Julius Genachowski's office.

Chairman Genachowski's office isn't the only Free Press ally at the commission. The group also maintains close ties with FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who has long been one of the most vocal supporters of the most stringent form of net neutrality regulations. Indeed, his support for the strictest version of the policy has been seen as so strong that in the days and weeks before the rules passed last year, multiple sources indicated to me that there was uncertainty about whether he would vote for them because he thought the proposed rules might be too weak. 

In December of 2010, though, Copps provided one of the three votes that made the proposed rules official. How close were Copps's ties to Free Press before the vote? Close enough that one month before the vote, Free Press staffers Jenn Ettinger and Misty Perez explicitly coordinated with Copps's communication staffers Margaret McCarthy, John Giusti, and Joshua Cinelli to draft and place an op-ed supporting net neutrality, according to emails between the FCC and Free Press made public by JudicialWatch.org

On November 1, Ettinger, who acts as the "media coordinator" for Free Press's "Save the Internet" project, wrote an email to McCarthy in Copps's office: "I wanted to gauge your interest in doing an oped by Commissioner Copps for the Albuquerque Journal," Ettinger wrote. She even offered to write the piece herself. "I'm happy to help draft, or place if need be." By November 9, the op-ed was in process. Copps's chief of staff John Giusti wrote back to Ettinger, "we're working on the op-ed." He added his fellow FCC staffers McCarthy and Cinelli to the email chain. 

The arrangement, it seems, was that Copps's team would handle the initial drafting and Free Press would manage the process of getting it placed in a newspaper. Copps's staffers proceeded to treat the op-ed as if it was a product they were producing for Free Press: On November 9, McCarthy wrote back to Ettinger: "I think John said we owe you the oped by Friday." 

On that same day, Ettinger wrote to McCarthy, "I can definitely take care of the placement in the Albuquerque Journal....Thanks so much for handling the drafting, and for working with us on this."

Copps's staffers were the ones drafting the editorial, but they sought specific input from Free Press during the writing process: "I am working with a draft that is about 625 words," McCarthy wrote to Ettinger on November 10. "Does that sound ok in terms of length or should we be aiming for something shorter?" To which Ettinger replied: "I think 600 would be the max they would take. Is it possible to trim. If not I'm sure 25 extra words is fine and I can work with the Journal." It's not entirely clear what the final line in Ettinger's email means. But it certainly could be taken to suggest that Ettinger, who had previously offered to draft the entire op-ed, was offering to make final edits on the piece during the placement process. 

On November 12, a draft of the op-ed was sent by Copps' staff to Free Press. Copps's staffers were still eager for input from their allies at the activist group. "Attached is the commissioner's Op-Ed," wrote Copps's media advisor, Joshua Cinelli, to Ettinger. "Margaret asked if you would be so kind as to triple check the event details in the last paragraph. Give me a buzz if you need anything else." 

Later that day, Ettinger wrote back with her approval to Cinelli, CCing McCarthy. She named an additional cohost in the final paragraph, but reassured Cinelli that "otherwise all the details were correct." The piece had been given the Free Press seal of approval and submitted for publication. "The oped looks great and I've sent it to the Journal," Ettinger wrote.

On Monday, November 15, Ettinger sent Giusti, McCarthy, and Cinelli a note indicating that the final op-ed had run in the Albuquerque paper. Printed under the headline "Open Internet Needed for All," it was signed by "Michael J. Copps, Federal Communications Commissioner." The piece begins with the words, "The Internet was born on openness..." 

Read my feature-length chronicle of the FCC's quest for net neutrality regulations here. More on Copps's quest for control of the Net here and here

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  • Paul||

    “the need to promote an understanding of the urgency to assert public control over the media.”

    "Free Press"... riiight.

    Now we really can say things like, "You know who else is for Net Neutrality?"

  • ||

    27 years too late.

  • ||

    "the need to promote an understanding of the urgency to assert public control over the media.”

    I think making that statement is grounds for shooting this douchebag on site. These people are dangerous.

  • ||

    Authoritarian NGO collaborates with authoritarian a-hole. Color me shocked.

  • Paul||

    Remember when liberals were distrustful of government control of the media?

    Yeah, those days are long gone.

  • ||

    Nah, they'll go back to being distrustful of government control the day Palin is sworn in.

  • Michael||

    Remember when liberals were distrustful of government control of the media?

    Pardon me.


    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

  • Ted S.||

    No. The lefty types I know all complain about "media concentration", but love the "media concentration" of government-created concentrators like the BBC.

  • MJ||

    No, when was that?

    Seriously, the left has been broadly supportive of "public" control of broadcast media for at least 80 years.

  • cynical||

    When liberal meant classical liberal? I don't think socialists or progressives have ever had a problem with it, except when someone else has the power.

  • FCC||

    All your packets will be delivered fairly. We just need access to them. And those encryption keys as well.

  • Virginia||

    FP does some good stuff blocking the crazy Constitution-crushing RIAA power grabs popping up in Congress.

    Anyone read the emails at Judicial Watch? Jenn Ettinger needs to have her 1/! key removed from her keyboard! I mean, WOW! Great! Thanks! Sorry!

  • ||

    The Albuquerque Journal? They couldn't find a better paper than that to run their propaganda in?

  • I. P. Freely||

    It's weird that most organizations with the words "Free Press" in the name usually have wacko politics, what with the left-wing Free Press having dumb media conspiracies and American Free Press being a deranged neo-Nazi manifesto and all.

    At least the left-wing Free Press has some semblance of a good purpose, as Virgina pointed out.

  • ||

    So if some sick bastard does 9 bad things, but 1 or 2 good things, we should shower him with ataboys?

    No thanks. I won't support any organization that is openly authoritarian in its mission and manned by old-guard Marxists like McChesney.

  • Virginia||

    you know - cross the aisle and all that.

  • ||

    "The Internet was born on openness..."

    No, it was born a closed network, as a plaything for the military and academic supercomputers, much as the Internet2 is today.

    But, don't let those pesky facts get in the way of the Big Lie narrative.

  • Beezard||

    You're right, it became something ubiquitous and useful due to openness. There is a difference.

  • ||

    And it became ubiquitous because some shrewd people realized there was a buck to be made in them wires.

  • Michael||

    The saddest aspect of all this is that a majority swath of the population who reflexively votes for anybody the Democrat Party approves for political consumption every election cycle have ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE why one company might not want to allow competitors' applications to run on their platforms or to open their code to competitors in vice-versa. They just hear warm, fuzzy power-to-the-people terms like "openness" and "neutrality" and immediately think that legislation will somehow magically create universal cross-platform compatibility overnight, because to them connecting to the Internet works just the same as plugging a vacuum cleaner into a wall socket.

  • cynical||

    "why one company might not want to allow competitors' applications to run on their platforms or to open their code to competitors in vice-versa"

    To leverage their market power in a poorly competitive and highly regulated and politicized field to cripple competition in a field that, left alone, would be much more laissez faire and dynamic?

    Besides, IP is pretty much just like electricity for a lot of applications. And separating transmission from generation hasn't been bad for competition in the power industry, as far as I know. If the FCC was completely stripped of any power to intervene in ownership and content, net neutrality might not be such a bad thing.

  • ||

    Oh NOOOO Not an OP ED! OMG! It's almost as if the traditional media is open to manipulation by politicos, and as such without an uncensored internet it will become increasingly difficult to acquire real information about the actions of our politicians. Oh wait. It's exactly like that.

  • Jeff||

    All government personell are influenced by the people and organizations that they govern. It is not an attribute held by any single party or individual. But what I think is important about the NN topic is that it the web needs to remain the way it is today open and free for ideas. It's a semantic issue to say that the internet is run through closed networks it's the ideas that run free and if we all let monopolistic corporations deiced what content is more important to their bottom line then we run the risk of having filtered ideas. And going down that line of thought, NN is just one small issue embedded in the bigger problem of Media Consolidation as @Shinobi pointed out, but missed the point that at least now we have an uncensored internet so sites like this have the opportunity to be seen. On a side note... what is wrong with Prof. McChesney saying the PUBLIC should own the media? Should it be run by GE? The lightbulb maker?

  • Michael||

    Are you a developer?

  • Gabby||

    "what is wrong with Prof. McChesney saying the PUBLIC should own the media?"

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

  • Gabby||

    I should add that the vehicle by which the "PUBLIC" would oversee said ownership would be Congress.

  • Jeff||

    The congress exists only as a vehicle to protect all constitutional rights for the people. If the people have a strong voice about keeping the freedom of free speech and of the press then it's the congress' job to ensure other influences... ie. giant media don't take it away. If that means they need to write rules for the road so that these corporate run networks don't discriminate then so be it. It is also our job (the people) to keep the government in check... make sure they are not censoring, illegally spying etc. Again saving the press has little to do with party lines. It's in the damn constitution.

    @michael no not a dev

  • MJ||

    Incredible logic here (in the sense of "not credible"). The only way to ensure a free press is put it under government control?

    Jeff, can you see the back of your teeth with how far you have your head jammed up your posterior?

  • Michael||

    Oh, you're not? That's quite surprising considering how cocksure you are about network dynamics.

  • Jeff||

    Just because I am not a dev today does not mean that I didn't major in computer science in college (which I did). And all the way back in the early-90's when email was just taking off (the internet was still very small) ethics in computing all had to do with privacy... the very privacy you all are apparently ready to hand over to every greedy corporation so they can hand deliver personal marketing messages disguised as NEWS. I am well aware of where the interTubes started and how networking... um well works. But thanks for asking...

    @Mikey and @MJ.... nice language BTW, are you here to be angry and SLAM or to have actual dialogue about fixing the corruption that exists in ALL of government.

  • ||

    if we all let monopolistic corporations deiced what content is more important to their bottom line then we run the risk of having filtered ideas.

    Golly, one just has to wonder which organization has a history of actively engaging in censorship, filtering as you call it, up until now?

    On a side note... what is wrong with Prof. McChesney saying the PUBLIC should own the media?

    Other than it being unrefined collectivist bullshit, power through the barrel of a gun, why nothing, nothing at all.

    Funny, you'd think that the individuals and the businesses that invested in the media/telecom/content companies and you know, actually own the company, would "own the media," but that's just my crazy talking.

    Don't you have some union organizing to do at Noodles & Co?

  • MJ||

    "On a side note... what is wrong with Prof. McChesney saying the PUBLIC should own the media?"

    Basically, the entire weight of logic behind the free speech and free press protections in the 1st Amendment. The entire idea is to prevent the government from controlling the media. Prof. McChesney is either a totalitarian or an idiot.

  • MJ||

    "It's always been clear that Free Press, a liberal advocacy group that agitates for what it labels "media reform," has been one of the biggest drivers of the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality agenda—an agenda that paid off last December when the FCC finally passed net neutrality regulations. The group's radicalism has at times been explicit: Its co-founder, Robert McChesney, has written of “the need to promote an understanding of the urgency to assert public control over the media.”

    Free Press has got to be in the running for the most mendaciously named organizations in history.

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