Kevin Martin’s (Mis)Management

A congressional investigation of FCC chairman Kevin Martin concludes mismanagement and manipulation — but it lacks serious allegations of wrongdoing. Rather, it seems another case of a Bush appointee throwing his weight around to pursue an agenda in an environment of nonpartisan career bureaucrats.

The report states, “Chairman Martin’s heavy-handed, opaque, and non-collegial management style has created distrust, suspicion and turmoil among the five current commissioners.” The report comes from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, chaired by Rep. John Dingell.

Martin’s people argue that the report “did not find or conclude that there were any violations of rules, laws or procedures.”

The report may be more a warning sign to the next FCC chief than any kind of threat to Martin, who is not expected to remain in his post during the Obama administration. The winner is not necessarily the consumer but the cable business, which has bristled under Martin’s suggestion that it be forced to offer its channels on an ala carte basis.

The report all but suggests that Martin has had it out for cable — as plenty of consumers do, too. The report contends that Martin ordered agency employees to re-write a report on ala carte service to show that it would be a benefit to consumers. And it also contends Martin tried to manipulate the findings of another study to show that the cable industry had enough of a market share to warrant additional regulation.

As the AP points out, Martin recently opened an investgation into the cable industry’s pricing policies, with Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications among those cited.

The broadcast networks are certainly not displeased with the findings, after wrangling with the FCC over its fines for indecency. Although the report didn’t delve into Martin’s management of indecency cases, he is one of the leading hardliners.

The juciest tidbit in the report has to do with White House problems with their pay service. The charge is that an “unidentified White House official” contacted Martin’s office in 2007 to ask why DirecTV was not offering local channels as part of its satellite service. (I am not making this up). It contends that the FCC’s media bureau staff was told not to act of the Liberty Media/DirecTV acquisition then pending before the commission until the issue was resolved. Liberty Media and DirecTV resolved the issue with the White House quickly, the the approval process proceeded. The report doesn’t make a conclusion as to whether the story is true, but says it is a “serious issue” that warrants “further investigation.”

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