FCC Official Blasts Social Media ‘Smear Campaign’

WASHINGTON — There are plenty of exuberant new media types who are keen
to argue that blogs, Twitter feeds and other novel ways of sharing
information will be able to pick up the journalistic slack left by the
erosion of mainstream media outlets, if not replace them altogether.

Mark Lloyd is not one of them.

Lloyd, who was appointed associate general counsel and chief diversity
officer at the Federal Communications Commission in late July, this morning
addressed the rude greeting he received from members of the conservative
media, a decidedly modern attack campaign born on the blogosphere,
then picked up by popular cable and radio talk show hosts before circulating around
sites like Facebook and YouTube. Eventually the controversy gained enough
momentum that news services and newspapers began reporting on it.

“Anyone who suggests that old media — whether newspapers or radio or
cable — no longer matters has not fully experienced the impact of old
media,” Lloyd said at an event hosted by the Media Access Project. “Anyone
who suggests that Facebook and YouTube are the answers to the problems of
old media has not been confronted by a smear campaign using these social
media tools.”

Lloyd became a target for some of his comments and writings on the First
Amendment, which some critics interpreted as a sign that he was seeking to
reinstate the fairness doctrine, the controversial policy the FCC scrapped
in 1987 that required broadcasters to present opposing viewpoints on
controversial issues.

Conservative pundits have long warned against any
efforts to revive the fairness doctrine — either in name or spirit — which
they contend is an affront to free speech and a veiled attempt to push them
off the air. The incoming FCC commissioners were each asked about their
views on the issue in their Senate confirmation hearings. Each expressed
unequivocal opposition.

The attack against Lloyd also fit in with the growing criticism in some
conservative quarters of the seemingly endless parade of “czars” the Obama
administration has installed. It coincided with a more fevered opposition
strike against Van Jones, who had been dubbed the “green jobs czar,” led
perhaps most vocally by Fox News’ Glenn Beck and ultimately resulting in
Jones’ resignation.

In both cases, the Web played an integral part in drumming up opposition,
with YouTube videos of controversial remarks the individuals had made, along
with footage of Beck and other critics denouncing them ricocheting around
the Internet. Advocacy groups and industry lobbies picked up on the charges,
incorporating them into e-mail blasts to their members and leaning on
receptive members of Congress, who began speaking out against what they
described as insidious and anti-democratic voices in the administration.

In his case, Lloyd described the new-media echo chamber as having
amplified hostile commentary and out-of-context quotes to the point where
the lies were repeated enough that people eventually came to believe them — vintage propaganda.

“Allow me to clear away some mud,” he said this morning. “I’m not a czar
appointed by President Obama. I’m not at the FCC to restore the fairness
doctrine through the front door or the back door. Or to carry out a secret
plot funded by George Soros to get rid of Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or any
other conservative talk show host. I’m not at the FCC to remove anybody —
whatever their color — from power. I’m not a supporter of Hugo Chavez. The
right-wing smear campaign has been, in a word, incredible.”

Lloyd, clearly still stung from the attacks that he said resulted in
hate mail and death threats, decried the “warped and simplistic distortions”
of his writings and comments. But he also noted that social media was an
integral part of the campaign that won Obama the presidency.

But in the context of journalism, a subject of considerable anxiety these
days, Lloyd sees social media as a technological complement to practices
like fact checking and background research that he considers hallmarks of
the professional craft.

“To separate old media from new media is to not understand the
interrelationship between media,” he said. “To elevate and place hope in new
media and determine that old media is not relevant is to misunderstand our
complex media environment.”

So the relationship between old and new is symbiotic. But what happens
after the former gives way to the latter?

Lloyd, it should be noted, does not have the responsibility for setting
federal policies that could reshape the news industry. Among the proposals
currently on the table, which range from increased funding for public media
to changes to copyright, antitrust or tax law, each would require an act of
Congress.

But he did note, as have many others, that the work of news gathering and
reporting is imperiled, hinting that the government has a role to play. He
looked back to the formation of the U.S. Postal Service in the 18th century,
a government-backed institution that initially included a subsidy to
distribute newspapers.

“I do not suggest that we return to that model, only that we have
something to learn from it,” he said, without recommending any specific
policy proposals. What seems clear enough to Lloyd, though, is that the
Internet and the economic upheaval it has brought to the news business has
left a void that he would like to see filled.

“Citizens should know how to distinguish journalism from propaganda, and
to check with a variety of media to guard against the dangers of media
bias,” he said. “Journalism, frankly, does not describe the culture of the
blogosphere or social media. Increasingly, the word journalism does not
describe the work of most old media these days.”

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