After enduring a vitriolic and homophobic smear campaign from right-wing media outlets during a 16-month lobbying battle — with little public defense from Democratic leadership — career-long consumer rights advocate and veteran telecom lawyer Gigi Sohn withdrew her nomination to the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday. That news came almost immediately after reports that Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., planned to vote against Sohn’s confirmation, likely torpedoing the nomination.
“When I accepted his nomination over sixteen months ago, I could not have imagined that legions of cable and media industry lobbyists, their bought-and-paid-for surrogates, and dark money political groups with bottomless pockets would distort my over 30-year history as a consumer advocate into an absurd caricature of blatant lies,” Sohn said in a statement Tuesday.
“The unrelenting, dishonest and cruel attacks on my character and my career as an advocate for the public interest have taken an enormous toll on me and my family.”
Manchin, who has been widely criticized for his relationship with telecom industry lobbyists, released a statement Tuesday explaining why he would oppose Sohn’s confirmation.
“The FCC must focus on issues of critical importance to West Virginian [sic] and Americans, such as updating broadband coverage maps,” said Manchin, “and ensuring every American has access to affordable Internet services.”
The senator’s objections are somewhat unclear in nature, perhaps deliberately so, since Sohn by all accounts has spent decades doing exactly those things.
“As someone who has advocated for my entire career for affordable, accessible broadband for every American, it is ironic that the 2-2 FCC will remain sidelined at the most consequential opportunity for broadband in our lifetimes,” Sohn said in her statement. “This means that your broadband will be more expensive for lack of competition.
“It is a sad day for our country and our democracy when dominant industries, with assistance from unlimited dark money, get to choose their regulators. And with the help of their friends in the Senate, the powerful cable and media companies have done just that.”
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Responses from advocacy groups, experts and veteran journalists flooded the internet.
“A way to read Manchin’s statement here is that the only path to become an FCC commissioner is to come from the industry it’s supposed to regulate. If you come from the nonprofit/consumer advocacy world, you can’t serve,” said NBC News’ Kevin Collier.
When Donald Trump nominated Nathan Simington to the FCC, he was seated in less than 28 days despite having little experience in the telecom industry, a fact pointed out Tuesday by veteran reporter Karl Bode.
Democrats were not “faultless” with regard to Sohn’s nomination, Bode observed, delaying her confirmation hearings, failing to whip votes, yielding “to GOP demands for additional unnecessary show hearings and delays,” and failing repeatedly to offer public support as Sohn “faced down a homophobic smear campaign, alone.”
In a statement responding to Sohn’s withdrawal, Evan Greer, director of the digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future, also called out Democrats failing her.
“Meanwhile,” Greer said, “lack of FCC oversight has enabled collection and sale of cell phone location data that puts vulnerable communities at risk of stalking, harassment, and surveillance. A fully staffed FCC could address these issues. Biden’s deadlocked FCC is utterly impotent. And marginalized communities will pay the price for Democrats’ incompetence and cowardice.”
Chris Lewis, CEO of open-internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, said the American public “should be outraged.”
“The hard work of the Commission to prevent digital discrimination, to curb media consolidation, and to reinstate the FCC as the agency with authority over broadband is lost by this failure,” Lewis said in a Tuesday statement.
“The incessant and appalling personal attacks against Ms. Sohn, the outright lies about her character, and the deceptive tactics used to bully her will have ripple effects for both the public and any other nominees the Biden administration may want to serve in their government.”
from Rae Hodge on tech and politics