Eliot Spitzer and the FCC

Posted on March 12, 2008 - 8:00am.

from: All Voices

Eliot Spitzer and the FCC
by Matthew Lasar San Francisco
Mar 11, 6:36 PM

The news media is having a great day with the revelation that New York Governor Eliot Spitzer paid for sex with prostitutes. Behind the scenes, corporate criminals are breaking out the champagne. As Attorney General of the Empire State, Eliot Spitzer championed the consumer and feasted on white collar crooks. Not only that, Spitzer's zeal often forced those around him in government to do their jobs better, whether they wanted to or not.

To cite only one example, in the summer of 2005 Spitzer launched a campaign against radio payola. The smart set had long ago concluded that payola was inevitable. After all, the government had cracked down on it in the early 1960s, and yet here it was still around.

But Spitzer thought otherwise. He announced lawsuits against Sony Records and Entercom Communications Corporation, the latter which owns and operates 105 radio stations on the east coast. The suits charged that the firms' stations solicited payments from record companies for air time, or they traded air time for gifts, promotional items, and personal trips.

Spitzer obtained corporate emails that revealed pay-for-play deals between corporate radio stations and promoters. "Hello Lisa," one email to a promoter began. "I'm writing to confirm WBEE's receipt of a Dell computer, value $2512.08. Thank you again; we enjoyed doing the promotion with you." That exchange was mild in tone compared to correspondence between a Sony station deejay and a promoter. "I'm a whore this week, what can I say?" the jock declares. "You can say I'll give you Franz Ferdinand this week and put it in a 7PM to 6AM rotation with 18 times a week," came the reply.

As Sony, Entercom and two other firms rushed to settle, Spitzer went further. In March of 2006 he held a press conference to denounce the Federal Communications Commission for dragging its heels on the issue. He demanded that the FCC take more aggressive steps against payola.

"The agency's inaction is especially disappointing given the pervasive nature of this problem and its corrosive impact on the entertainment industry," Spitzer said. This kick in the rump obviously worked. A month later the FCC announced an accelerated investigation of the alleged payola practices of four media giants: Clear Channel Communications, CBS Radio, Entercom Communications, and Citadel Broadcasting. A year later the four culprits paid the government $12.5 million in fines. They also agreed to a new set of rules reigning in "pay for play" radio.

"Through this strong enforcement action that we take today," FCC Chair Kevin Martin officiously stated, "the Commission has provided clear guidance to licensees and sent a strong message that the practice of payola must stop for good." But the agency would not have accomplished this had Elliot Spitzer not put the fear of God into the broadcasting industry with his dramatic lawsuit, and made a public issue of the commission's laziness.

Doubtless the occupants of corporate board rooms everywhere watched Spitzers' heartbreaking press conference yesterday and grinned. An arrogant man brought down by the very flaws he decried in others, they are saying to their confidants.

Yes, Spitzer was arrogant, self-righteous, and maniacally ambitious. He needed to be those things to accomplish his work. Nice, self-effacing people do not prevail against corporate crooks and their sleazy lawyers, lobbyists, and thugs. Eliot Spitzers do. I, for one, am not laughing about his demise.

( categories: FCC | NEW YORK )