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Opinion

Four of five FCC study authors gave to Obama

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Byron York,Barack Obama,FCC

A significant problem with the now-suspended Federal Communications Commission plan to have government contractors question journalists about editorial decisions and practices was that it was a partisan exercise. The plan originated among Democrats on the FCC; the commission's two Republican members didn't even learn about it until it was well under way.

There was also a one-sidedness in the research behind the project. The FCC enlisted scholars from two big journalism schools, the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Communication and Democracy, to determine the "critical information needs" about which journalists would be questioned. The study, delivered in July 2012, listed five authors: Ernest J. Wilson III, Carola Weil, and Katya Ognyanova from USC, Lewis Friedland from Wisconsin, and Philip Napoli from Fordham University. (Weil is now with American University.) Four of the five, it turns out, contributed to President Obama's campaigns.

According to Federal Election Commission records, Wilson gave $3,300 to the Obama presidential campaign in 2007 and 2008. Napoli contributed $500 to Obama in 2008. Weil gave $250 in 2012. And Friedland gave $200 in 2008. There are no contributions listed from Ognyanova, who as a post-doctoral fellow led a team of graduate student researchers on the project.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with professors contributing to President Obama, and there's nothing wrong with Democrats exercising control over the FCC when there's a Democrat in the White House. But controversial projects are usually less controversial when they have some bipartisan support; it's often a good idea to have a little diversity of opinion in the mix when decisions are made. But in this case, the newsroom survey appears to have been a one-sided exercise every step of the way.

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Byron York

Chief Political Correspondent
The Washington Examiner