Brewer and Stoddard failed to note FCC chairman's criticism of McCain's letter for Paxson

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

On MSNBC Live, discussing the New York Times article on Sen. John McCain's ties to lobbyist Vicki Iseman, Contessa Brewer asked A.B. Stoddard, "[I]n Washington, is it unusual if you get a letter from a constituent or a lobbyist on a matter, and you're concerned about it, that you would move on it?" Brewer was referring to the Times' reporting that Iseman "asked Mr. McCain's staff to send a letter to the [Federal Communications] commission to help Paxson [Communications], now Ion Media Networks." Stoddard replied, "Senators and members of Congress act all the time on behalf of concerns from their constituents, as well as lobbyists, if they think that they are valid points to make, and they're acting on their own beliefs." But neither Brewer nor Stoddard noted that then-FCC chairman William E. Kennard expressed concern about McCain's letter, calling it "highly unusual."

On the February 21 edition of MSNBC Live, discussing a February 21 New York Times article on Sen. John McCain's ties to telecommunications lobbyist Vicki Iseman, anchor Contessa Brewer asked A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, "[I]n Washington, is it unusual if you get a letter from a constituent or a lobbyist on a matter, and you're concerned about it, that you would move on it?" Brewer was referring to the Times' reporting that Iseman "asked Mr. McCain's staff to send a letter to the [Federal Communications] commission to help Paxson [Communications], now Ion Media Networks. Mr. [Lowell W.] Paxson was impatient for F.C.C. approval of a television deal." Stoddard replied, "Senators and members of Congress act all the time on behalf of concerns from their constituents, as well as lobbyists, if they think that they are valid points to make, and they're acting on their own beliefs." But neither Brewer nor Stoddard noted that then-FCC chairman William E. Kennard criticized the letter, saying that "it is highly unusual for the commissioners to be asked to publicly announce their voting status" on Paxson's request while the matter was "still pending."

Further, neither Brewer nor Stoddard pointed out that Paxson Communications and Lowell Paxson were not actually McCain's constituents. Paxson Communications was a Florida-based corporation, and, according to Federal Election Commission data available from the Center for Responsive Politics, Lowell Paxson was a resident of Palm Beach, Florida. They also did not note, as the Boston Globe reported on January 5, 2000, that McCain had close ties to Paxson Communications, that the company and its personnel had made generous campaign contributions to McCain by the time of his December 10, 1999, letter to the FCC, or that McCain repeatedly used Paxson's corporate jet, including on the days before and after he sent the letter. According to the Globe:

A spokesman for the senator, noting that McCain often sees the FCC deliberative process as molasses-like, said there was no connection between Paxson's political support for McCain -- $20,000 in two concentrated doses from Paxson and its law firm -- and his intercession with the FCC.

But McCain's close ties to Paxson were abundantly clear on the key dates surrounding the FCC decision. The day before he sent the Dec. 10 letter, McCain used Paxson's jet for a trip from New York to Florida. The day after the letter, he took the company jet from Florida to Washington. The campaign reimbursed the company at first-class airfare rates - well below the actual cost of the charters.

[...]

Through the end of September, Paxson's top officers and their family members -- and even the personal assistant to the wife of the company's founder, Lowell W. Paxson -- contributed $12,000 to McCain. In 1998, Paxson officials gave $9,000 to McCain.

And in July, as Paxson lobbyists were asking members of Congress to exert pressure on the FCC, 13 members of Paxson's law firm, Dow, Lohnes & Albertson, contributed more than $8,000 to McCain on a single day, according to campaign finance records.

On January 6, 2000, the Times published a December 1999 letter from McCain to Kennard and excerpts from Kennard's reply, as well as a reply from then-FCC commissioner Gloria Tristani. McCain wrote: "I respectfully request that each member of the commission advise me, in writing no later than close of business on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 1999, whether you have already acted upon these applications in the course of the notation voting process. If your answer to the latter question is no, please state further whether you will, or will not, be prepared to act on these applications at the open meeting on Dec. 15. If your answer to both of the proceeding questions is no, please explain why." McCain later wrote: "This letter is not written to obtain favorable disposition of any matter on behalf of any party to any proceeding before the commission."

Kennard's response read, in part:

As you know, this application raises important and very difficult policy issues. I wholeheartedly agree that prompter commission action on this matter would have been preferable.

Your letter, however, comes at a sensitive time in the deliberative process as the individual commissioners finalize their views and their votes on this matter. I must respectfully note that it is highly unusual for the commissioners to be asked to publicly announce their voting status on a matter that is still pending. I am concerned that inquiries concerning the individual deliberations of each commissioner could have procedural and substantive impacts on the commission's deliberations and, thus, on the due process rights of the parties.

Tristani responded in part:

Respectfully, I cannot comply with your request. In order to preserve the integrity of our processes, it is my practice not to publicly disclose whether I have voted or when I will be voting on items in restricted proceedings prior to their adoption by the full commission.

In its February 21 article, the Times reported that McCain "sent two letters to the commission, drawing a rare rebuke for interference from its chairman."

As Media Matters for America documented, earlier on February 21, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan asserted that McCain's actions were "in the normal course of business of a congressman," while NPR senior correspondent and Fox News contributor Juan Williams said that "the McCain campaign has been very clear in saying that nothing out of the ordinary was done for these clients."

From the 4 p.m. ET hour of the February 21 edition of MSNBC Live:

BREWER: And now to a big story making news here at home. It's the Straight Talk Express versus the Paper of Record. John McCain is fighting back against a front-page story in The New York Times questioning the senator's relationship with a female lobbyist. Here to sort it -- help us sort all this out with us, A.B. Stoddard, who's the associate editor with the newspaper, The Hill.

All right, before we get in to this, I want to take on some of these claims, piece by piece, the Times' story and Senator McCain's response. The Times says, quote: "In late 1999, Ms. Iseman asked Mr. McCain's staff to send a letter to the commission to help Paxson [Communications], now Icn Media Networks [sic], on another matter. Mr. Paxson was impatient for F.C.C. approval of a television deal, and Ms. Iseman acknowledged in an e-mail message to The Times that she had sent to Mr. McCain's staff information for drafting a letter urging a swift decision."

McCain today explained his reason for sending the letter:

McCAIN [video clip]: We wrote a letter because the FCC, which usually makes a decision within 400 days, had gone almost 800 days. In the letter, I said I am not telling you how to make a decision, I am just telling you that you should move forward and make a decision on this issue.

BREWER: A.B., in Washington, is it unusual if you get a letter from a constituent or a lobbyist on a matter, and you're concerned about it, that you would move on it?

STODDARD: Senators and members of Congress act all the time on behalf of concerns from their constituents, as well as lobbyists, if they think that they are valid points to make, and they're acting on their own beliefs. I mean, many of the areas that John McCain has acted on in his career, he has done so because he just happens to be in agreement with -- what you could call -- the special interests. I'm not saying that he didn't do anything fishy, because he likely may have. The problem today is that The New York Times put those allegations in the second- or third-to-last paragraph in a very lengthy story, and they made Vicki Iseman the story at the top.

BREWER: And on Vicki Iseman, they had two sources on this, and let me tell you what the Times had to say about those sources. The Times says, "The two associates, who said they had become disillusioned with the senator, spoke independently of each other and provided details that were corroborated by others."

Network/Outlet
MSNBC, CNN
Person
A.B. Stoddard, Contessa Brewer
Show/Publication
MSNBC Live, The Situation Room
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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