Now that the insanity about “a romantic relationship” is out of the way, everyone else is finally catching up to me on the John McCain-Vicki Iseman-lobbying brouhaha. I immediately assumed the tougher questions would surround McCain’s actions as Commerce Committee Chair – all of which were honorable, not that you’d have noticed from the New York Times’ abominable spin on them.
Now the Washington Post is getting in on the fun, reporting that McCain did indeed meet with the folks at Paxson Communications. For the uninitiated, Paxson was the firm whose attempt to buy a Pittsburgh TV station was held up by the FCC because said agency refused to make a decision to approve or deny the deal. McCain’s campaign had claimed no such meeting took place, only that Paxson’s people met with some of McCain’s staff.
Given that McCain himself acknowledged meeting Paxson on the subject back in 2002 (same Post link), it’s pretty clear the campaign erred. Does this automatically mean McCain acted improperly? No. Once again, as nearly everyone acknowledges (including the Post today), McCain only asked the FCC Chairman (and later, the other Commissioners) to come to a decision of any kind. He did not recommend or ask for a particular decision one way or another.
The Post, however, takes things a step further, insinuating that the timing of a decision was itself part of the dispute:
The proposed station swap was highly contentious in Pittsburgh and involved a multi-pronged lobbying effort by the parties to the deal. Local activists and some community leaders had objected to one of their public TV stations being turned over to a religious channel.
The public opposition caused a long delay at the FCC, and by late 1999, it had been 30 months since the deal was offered for FCC approval.
Further down the piece, the Post offers the supposed coup de grace:
. . . the deal among Paxson and the two other parties was set to expire. Without action by mid-December, the deal could be dead, Paxson said.
Well, I’ll go a step further, too; if timing was of the essence, and it was “public opposition” that led to the delay in the first place, why should we simply accept that this was OK? Are we saying we should just stand by and let special interest groups throw up enough road blocks to run out the clock on deals they don’t like? How does that promote free markets and fight excess government regulation? The answer is: it doesn’t. Instead, it encourages political misdirection, sends a chilling effect to industry leaders and investors, and dampens the possibilities of market efficiency. In short, it is unnecessary and harmful interference in the market place.
Therefore, if John McCain’s letters calling for a decision had the “ulterior” motive of saving the initial deal from government’s “invisible foot” of inaction, then McCain’s actions are still perfectly consistent with his principles of limited government and minimal interference in the economy. In other words, we’ve come back full circle to what I said on Thursday.
I should also note that, according to the McCain campaign, both sides came to his staff asking for help in getting the FCC to make a decision, so the Post’s insinuations are hardly irrefutable. Either way, however, John McCain’s actions are completely defensible.
I’ll end with one interesting irony. The firm at the center of all this (Paxson Communications) were the folks behind the PAX-TV, which at the time was setting itself up as the evangelical cable network. The Times‘ article has already led many right-wingers to come to McCain’s defense; as more evangelicals become aware that McCain is being beaten up by MSM for his efforts on behalf of PAX, he may finally break through to the one constituency that hasn’t fully warmed up to him during the primary season.
In other words: MSM may have aimed for McCain, but they actually hit Mike Huckabee.