A Human Centipede of Public Relations ⇥ theverge.com
Though I’ve been hard on the Verge of late, they still do some killer reporting. Spencer Woodman:
On August 21st, 2014, Mayor Jere Wood of Roswell, Georgia, sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission expressing emphatic support for Comcast’s controversial effort to merge with Time Warner Cable. Not only did the mayor’s letter express personal excitement for the gargantuan deal — which critics say will create a monopoly that will harm millions of consumers — but it also claimed that the entire town of Roswell adored Comcast. “When Comcast makes a promise to act, it is comforting to know that they will always follow through,” Wood’s letter explained. “This is the type of attitude that makes Roswell proud to be involved with such a company,” the letter asserts, “our residents are happy with the services it has provided and continues to provide each day.”
Yet Wood’s letter made one key omission: Neither Wood nor anyone representing Roswell’s residents wrote his letter to the FCC. Instead, a vice president of external affairs at Comcast authored the missive word for word in Mayor Wood’s voice. According to email correspondence obtained through a public records request, the Republican mayor’s office apparently added one sign-off sentence and his signature to the corporate PR document, then sent it to federal regulators on the official letterhead of Roswell, Georgia.
And, as Woodman’s reporting reveals, at least two other public officials did something similar with Comcast on this issue alone. This reporting isn’t that shocking; lobbyists have long worked far too closely with public officials. But the blatant and indefensible nature of these emails is noteworthy.
In response to a list of questions from the Verge, Comcast emphasized that it did not have final say in the substance of the letters. “We reached out to policy makers, community leaders, business groups and others across the country to detail the public interest benefits of our transaction with Time Warner Cable,” Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokesperson, said in an email. “When such leaders indicate they’d like to support our transaction in public filings, we’ve provided them with information on the transaction. All filings are ultimately decided upon by the filers, not Comcast.”
Bullshit. Comcast wrote these letters in the voice of the public officials they’re targeting, under the presumption that the public officials will submit the letters largely unchanged to the FCC. These are not informational briefs, but fully-formed letters of support.
The public officials should be shamed for signing their names on these things — and, for what it’s worth, for supporting a Comcast/TWC merger — but Comcast isn’t anywhere close to innocent here.