Public interest advocate Gigi Sohn is withdrawing her nomination to the FCC, after a 16-month battle in which she faced relentless attacks from industry lobbyists and from commentators on the right.
“When I accepted his nomination over sixteen months ago, I could not have imagined that legions of cable and media industry lobbyists, their bought-and-paid-for surrogates, and dark money political groups with bottomless pockets would distort my over 30-year history as a consumer advocate into an absurd caricature of blatant lies,” Sohn wrote in a statement to The Washington Post. “The unrelenting, dishonest and cruel attacks on my character and my career as an advocate for the public interest have taken an enormous toll on me and my family.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters, “She has tremendous intellect and experience, and we thought and we believed that she would be a … great candidate and would have been an excellent political official in this role. It is unfortunate and we are sad to see this happen.”
The announcement of her withdrawal came after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said that he would vote against her, costing Democrats a crucial vote if her nomination made it to the floor.
Sohn faced three hearings before the Senate Commerce Committee.
Sohn, a public interest advocate who served as special counsel to the FCC during the Obama administration, became a target of right-wing media, with figures like Tucker Carlson weighing in against her.
“It is a sad day for our country and our democracy when dominant industries, with assistance
from unlimited dark money, get to choose their regulators,” Sohn said in her statement. “And with the help of their friends in the Senate, the powerful cable and media companies have done just that.”
The FCC has been deadlocked 2-2 between the parties, meaning that the agency has avoided taking up more contentious items, like net neutrality and media consolidation.
Before the Senate Commerce Committee for a third time last month, Sohn blasted “false and misleading attacks on my record and my character.”
A guilt-by-association Daily Mail story had linked her membership on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has often found itself at odds with studios and media companies over copyright issues, and its award to Mistress Blunt, a sex worker who was honored for her activism in digital rights and technology policy. EFF told the Daily Mail that Sohn had no role in selecting Blunt for the award.
Sohn also suggested that corporate lobbyists were purposefully working to stall her nomination, leaving the FCC neutralized to act on more robust regulatory efforts.
In her statement, she said, “Unfortunately, the American people are the real losers here. The FCC deadlock, now over two years long, will remain so for a long time. As someone who has advocated for my entire career for affordable, accessible broadband for every American, it is ironic that the 2-2 FCC will remain sidelined at the most consequential opportunity for broadband in our lifetimes.”
Sohn would have been the first openly LGBTQ member to serve on the commission. She drew backing from figures such as Newsmax’s Chris Ruddy and One America’s Charles Herring, who credited her advocacy for smaller media entities in a cable universe dominated by media conglomerates.
But figures like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) attacked Sohn as a partisan, citing some of her past tweets, including those made about Fox News. In announcing his opposition to Sohn, Manchin said in a statement, “Especially now, the FCC must remain above the toxic partisanship that Americans are sick and tired of, and Ms. Sohn has clearly shown she is not the person to do that.”
She faced two hearings last year, and her nomination advanced in a 14-14 vote in the Senate Commerce Committee. But it never came to the floor in the last Congress. President Joe Biden renominated her earlier this year.
Lawmakers also raised issues about her participation in a start up venture called Locast. The non-profit service provided streams of broadcast signals, but suspended operations after broadcast networks sued for copyright infringement and a federal judge ruled in their favor.
Sohn said last year that, for the first three years of her term, she would recuse herself from issues of retransmission consent and broadcast copyright. But lobbyists from other sectors of the industry — like cable — said that she should recuse herself from other areas as well. As co-founder and CEO of Public Knowledge, she had commented on a wide range of issues related to the internet and media.
A spokesperson for NCTA– The Internet & Television Association, the chief lobbying arm of the cable industry, said they had no comment on Sohn’s withdrawal.
Chris Lewis, the current president and CEO of the group, said in a statement, “The incessant and appalling personal attacks against Ms. Sohn, the outright lies about her character, and the deceptive tactics used to bully her will have ripple effects for both the public and any other nominees the Biden administration may want to serve in their government. This sets a dangerous precedent.”
Preston Padden, a former executive for The Walt Disney Co. and Fox, had championed Sohn’s nomination even though they found themselves at odds on certain issues through the years. He wrote on Twitter, “The industry won. Consumers lost.”
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