Charles Herring issued a statement on Wednesday endorsing Sohn’s confirmation, writing that “as an executive of an independent, family owned business of two national networks, One America News Network and AWE, I’ve found myself advocating for more open markets in an environment that is arguably a quasi monopoly. I’ve fought in the trenches side-by-side with Gigi Sohn for a number of years on multiple issues. I’m fully aware of Gigi’s personal views, yet I’m even more knowledgeable on her strong belief and advocacy for diversity in the programming lineup, especially in news, regardless of conflicts with her personal views.”
Gigi Sohn is one of the most knowledgeable persons I know on FCC issues and has the common sense & desire to work with people on both sides of the aisle. I've witnessed first hand her dedication to DIVERSITY IN MEDIA & the FIRST AMENDMENT. I fully endorse her nomination for FCC. pic.twitter.com/NNn5SFJWN5
— Charles (@CharlesPHerring) November 10, 2021
Sohn is a longtime public interest advocate who served as counselor to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, an appointee of Barack Obama during his second term. She also co-founded the public interest group Public Knowledge, which has opposed media consolidation and advocated for a robust set of net neutrality rules.
Last month, Biden nominated Sohn to fill a vacancy on the FCC. He also appointed Jessica Rosenworcel to serve as chair and nominated her for another term.
The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on Rosenworcel’s nomination, but not Sohn’s, next week. A committee spokesperson said one is planned in the future at a date to be announced.
Often such nominations to the same agency are paired together, but the decision not to comes as some Republicans have singled out Sohn in opposition. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is not a member of the committee, on Tuesday wrote on Twitter that he would “do everything in my power to convince colleagues on both sides of the aisle to reject this extreme nominee.”
Graham linked to an editorial in The Wall Street Journal that cited one of her tweets from last year, in which she wrote, “For all my concerns about #Facebook, I believe that Fox News has had the most negative impact on our democracy. It’s state-sponsored propaganda, with few if any opposing viewpoints. Where’s the hearing about that?” It came amid conservative complaints that Facebook was biased against their viewpoints.
But the WSJ editorial went on to say that Sohn “has suggested using the FCC’s power over broadcast licenses to censor conservative outlets.” The Journal cited one of Sohn’s comments after conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group abandoned its proposed merger with Tribune Media. “Today is a good day for every American who believes that diversity of voices in the media is better for our democracy,” Sohn said, as the WSJ noted that Sohn urged the FCC to “look at whether Sinclair is qualified to be a broadcast licensee at all.”
Yet the WSJ editorial neglected to mention that One America News Network and other conservative outlets, including The Blaze and Newsmax, either opposed Sinclair’s proposed merger with Tribune or were fervent critics. The transaction would have created the largest station group in the country. One America was part of the Coalition to Save Local Media, a group of right and left leaning groups fighting the merger.
The Journal editorial also did not mention Sohn’s reasons for questioning Sinclair’s fitness to hold a broadcast license: At the time, there were concerns that Sinclair misrepresented its plans to divest stations as a means of obtaining government approval to acquire Tribune. Such a “lack of candor” is regarded as a serious violation that can lead to FCC sanctions.
In 2018, then FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, an appointee of President Donald Trump, sidelined the transaction when he referred it to a hearing by an administrative law judge. At the time, there were concerns that Sinclair was attempting to use “sham” transactions as a way to divest stations yet still retain control over them.
Ultimately, Tribune Media merged with Nexstar. Sinclair last year agreed to pay a $48 million penalty to close a series of investigations, but the FCC stopped short of moving to revoke the broadcasters’ licenses. Pai called Sinclair’s conduct “completely unacceptable,” while he said that he disagrees “with those who, for transparently political reasons, demand that we revoke Sinclair’s licenses.”
In his statement, Herring wrote that Sohn “believes in the First Amendment and the advantages of a strong and open media for the benefit of our democracy.”
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