WASHINGTON — Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) ripped into Washington’s favorite son Thursday, publicly accusing FCC topper Michael Powell of abandoning his responsibility and laying regulatory prudence on the altar of deregulation.
“It’s just amazing to me that you pell-mell down the road and seem not to care at all — I think you’d be a wonderful executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce, but not a chairman of a regulatory commission,” Hollings said during a hearing on FCC’s budget.
Until only recently, Powell — the son of Secretary of State Colin Powell — enjoyed enormous, bipartisan popularity. A little more than a year into the job now, the stardust is beginning to wear off, with Hollings and other lawmakers concerned about Powell’s penchant for deregulation and eliminating media ownership rules.
Hollings, a longtime fan of the bully pulpit whose barbs are legendary, said he was especially disturbed upon reading in two different sources Powell’s comment that “his religion” is the market. “You don’t care about the regulations. You don’t care about the law,” Hollings said.
Powell, visibly miffed, said he didn’t recall saying that, but that he might have. “The market does favor the public interest,” he said.
“That’s a wonderful statement from a director of the Chamber of Commerce,” Hollings said. “Let me ask you, are you happy in your job?”
“Extremely,” Powell said.
Hollings said it was interesting to note that conservatives also are taking on Powell, referring to William Safire’s column in Thursday’s edition of the New York Times lamenting media consolidation.
“With the roundheeled Michael Powell steering the Federal Communications Commission toward terminal fecklessness; with the redoubtable Joel Klein succeeded at (Dept. of) Justice’s antitrust division by an assortment of wimps; and with appeals courts approving the concentration of media power as if nothing had changed since President Taft’s day, the checks and balances made possible by diverse competition are being eradicated,” Safire wrote.
Washington veterans say the FCC has long been a whipping post of Congress, and that the only thing unusual about the criticism of Powell — or whoever else might be at the helm of the FCC — is that it didn’t come sooner.
After the hearing, Powell told reporters that he wasn’t shaken by Hollings’ charge. “Our approach is balanced and fair,” Powell said.