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Republican senators demand explanation for FCC newsroom study

| Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 10:36 p.m.

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and 42 other Senate Republicans have taken aim at the Federal Communications Commission, demanding it justify authorizing a widely criticized study Toomey has called “an inappropriate attempt to police newsrooms nationwide.”

The lawmakers also are asking FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to disclose the cost of what Toomey termed a “blatantly inappropriate” study, abruptly suspended by the agency last week when it was blasted in national media as a violation of journalists' First Amendment rights.

“It is impossible to imagine a rationale for the commission to consider using the ... study under any circumstance given its flagrantly unconstitutional implications,” Toomey said on Wednesday.

FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield said officials had not seen the senators' letter and declined comment.

The senators' offensive occurred on the same day that the second of five FCC commissioners — all political appointees — came out against the study.

“If any value was ever to come from this particular exercise, that ship has sailed,” said Republican commissioner Mike O'Rielly, who was appointed by President Obama last year. “It is probably time to cancel the ... study for good.”

Media organizations and others viewed the FCC's announcement that it was suspending the study with suspicion, speculating that an attempt to resurrect it would come at some point after the fury subsided.

Earlier, Republican commissioner Ajit Pai, also an Obama appointee, penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece criticizing the FCC study as inappropriate interference.

The FCC commissioned a research firm, Social Solutions International Inc. of Silver Spring, Md., to develop the survey of reporting and decision-making at television and radio stations, websites and newspapers to determine whether the “critical informational” needs of the public are being met.

Many critics coined it an attempt to control the media by the Obama administration, whose rocky relationship with the press has made headlines.

The firm, which has directed many government-authorized projects on social welfare issues such as drug abuse, mental health, HIV and prostitution, is headed by Susanna Nemes.

Neither her resume nor the company's website mention expertise in researching media organizations.

Nemes, a Harvard graduate with a doctorate in psychology, formerly worked for research firm Danya International, according to her resume. Danya is funded by billionaire George Soros, a prominent backer of liberal causes.

When contacted this week, Nemes said she was instructed by the FCC to refer all questions to the agency.

Some have compared the study proposed by Nemes' firm to a 2007 review by the liberal Center for American Progress that dealt with perceived bias in political talk radio. One of the co-authors of the study was Mark Lloyd, a former FCC official and one-time fellow at the Center for American Progress, whose co-founder is John Podesta, a member of the Obama administration.

Research compiled by the center found that daily content on talk radio stations across the country is overwhelmingly conservative and more than 2,500 hours each day are dedicated to conservative issues.

Lloyd's study recommended that limitations be placed on local ownership of radio stations.

“It is even more troubling that a commission spokesperson attempted to justify the ... study as a report on barriers to entry for entrepreneurs and small businesses in the communications marketplace, particularly when consumers are free to obtain news and information from a vibrant diversity of sources ... ,” said Toomey.

Toomey was joined by some fellow Republican heavy-hitters, including Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, both of Kentucky; Orin Hatch of Utah; and Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or

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