Comcast's efforts to protect members of Congress who, in turn, protect Comcast

Two weeks ago, Comcast rejected a political ad as defamatory because it stated that telecoms "broke the law." Today, the NYT wrote that telecoms "broke the law by helping Mr. Bush carry out his warrantless wiretapping operation."

By Glenn Greenwald
Published June 18, 2008 5:17PM (EDT)

(updated below)

I'll have a new update very shortly on the genuinely exploding campaign against the Steny-Hoyer-led Congressional effort to give the President warrantless eavesdropping powers and amnesty to lawbreaking telecoms. Just among a handful of blogs alone, almost $80,000 has been raised in less than 24 hours, with the total fundraising amount now over $160,000, to be aimed exclusively at vulnerable members of Congress who support this legislative travesty.

Until those updates are ready, I wanted to note one highly revealing fact. Two weeks ago, I wrote about how Comcast -- which is one of the telecom-defendants which broke the law and which has donated substantial sums to amnesty-supporter Chris Carney's campaign -- refused to run televisions ads submitted to them that criticized Carney for supporting amnesty for telecoms. Comcast's primary excuse for rejecting the ad was that one of the statements in the ad was, Comcast claimed, potentially defamatory and could subject Comcast to lawsuits (presumably from itself). The offending line Comcast cited was this one: "[Carney] wants to pardon phone companies who broke the law and gave thousands to his campaign."

While numerous newspapers and radio stations -- as well as the one other company operating cable stations in Carney's district -- all accepted and ran the ad, Comcast refused, claiming that line was potentially defamatory because "the mere filing of a lawsuit, whether civil or criminal, is not equivalent to a finding of liability or wrongdoing." Thus, claimed Comcast's lawyer, one could not say that the telecoms "broke the law" without leaving oneself vulnerable to lawsuits.

Today, The New York Times Editorial Board vigorously condemned the Hoyer bill, and in doing so, wrote this:

The bill is not a compromise. The final details are being worked out, but all indications are that many of its provisions are both unnecessary and a threat to the Bill of Rights. The White House and the Congressional Republicans who support the bill have two real aims. They want to undermine the power of the courts to review the legality of domestic spying programs. And they want to give a legal shield to the telecommunications companies that broke the law by helping Mr. Bush carry out his warrantless wiretapping operation.

That was exactly what the rejected ad said. It's just extraordinary that a corporation like Comcast can use its control over media outlets to block arguments from reaching Carney's constituents which: (a) concern a public figure (telecoms); (b) relate to a matter of significant public interest (whether amnesty should be granted) and (c) are printed verbatim in The New York Times. As indicated, the same claim was made repeatedly in the past by all sorts of public figures, such as Sen. Chris Dodd.

In fact, I've never heard anyone in the telecom amnesty debate ever deny that the telecoms broke the law. How could anyone deny that? Our long-standing federal laws could not be clearer, since their core purpose was to prohibit telecoms from allowing the Government access to their customers' communications without warrants. That telecoms "broke the law" -- continuously, knowingly and deliberately -- is hardly in dispute. That's precisely what makes amnesty so corrupt.

For Comcast to claim that this fact is "defamatory" -- all in order to block ads aimed at one of their donated-to Congressman who, in turn, is working feverishly to obtain amnesty for Comcast -- is indefensible though unsurprising. Comcast is, after all, one of the telecoms that purposely broke our surveillance laws for years in order to allow illegal government spying on their customers. For that reason, it would be foolish to expect any better behavior from them.

UPDATE: To call Comcast's bluff, the Carney ad was revised to accommodate every one of Comcast's objections and re-submitted to them today. Here is the revised ad:

This episode has only bolstered, not undermined, the resolve to run even more ads in Carney's district.

Glenn Greenwald

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