Washington – Only someone like D.C. super lobbyist Eddie Fritts gets to take a few cost-free shots at Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin, who, as the cable industry knows all too well, isn’t afraid of playing by north Jersey mob rules when shown up in public.
Fritts -- former boss of the National Association of Broadcasters now running his own firm -- gave it his best shot Wednesday night at a roast in Martin’s honor attended by 1,500 lawyers, lobbyists, and others who routinely seek favors from the national media regulator. The evening is officially known as the annual FCC Chairman’s Dinner, organized by the Federal Communications Bar Association to raise money for charitable causes.
Martin got to return fire later – but instead of putting Fritts in his place, Martin at times opted to poke fun at cable and other industries within his regulatory orbit.
In his trademark Mississippi drawl, Fritts reeled off a bunch of one-liners, including a few aimed at Martin’s youthful appearance.
“I’ve known Kevin since he was 25 years old and looking 12 years old. Let’s be honest, Kevin looks so young even Mark Foley would throw him back,” Fritts said, referring to the disgraced House Republican from Florida who had to resign over scandalous text messages exchanged with young boys.
Pausing between cracks to let the crowd settle down in the giant ballroom of the Washington Hilton, Fritts also reminded everyone of Martin’s ongoing “war” with the cable industry. He collected more groans than laughs by linking Sen. Larry Craig’s (R-Idaho) airport bathroom arrest to Martin’s demand that cable had met the so-called 70/70 test in federal law.
“You know, a lot of people think 70/70 gives Kevin a mandate on a la carte. Not true. The only one is Washington who has a mandate is Larry Craig,” Fritts said.
Fritts referred to the recent news that Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) is investigating Martin’s management of the agency. Martin got word in a letter from Dingell – a missive famously known in Washington telecom circles as a “Dingell-gram.”
“I spoke to Kevin on Monday and asked if he had recently received a Dingell-gram,” Fritts began. “He said, `Yes.’ I asked if it hurt and he responded, ‘Yes.’ And he also recommended that all men over age 50 get a Dingell-gram at least once a year.”
When it was Martin's turn, he started off with a little humility about his defeat to the cable industry last Tuesday on the matter of how big cable had grown.
“I recognize that I’ve brought some of my recent problems on myself -- for example, my cable choice proposal, you know, the one where cable gets to choose to do whatever I say. That may not have been my best idea,” Martin quipped.
At one point, Martin asked all cable lobbyists in the room to raise their hands. “I want to start out by apologizing that we had to remove the knives from your table,” he said.
Martin suggested that cable opened its checkbook to defeat his anti-cable initiatives.
“I don’t know how much money the cable industry has spent but I do know that if our country goes into a recession, it won’t be my fault,” he said.
Martin also used Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts as a foil in a gag about people who complain that Martin laced one of his public statements with the F-word.
“But not everyone was so critical,” Martin said. “Brian Roberts called and suggested I do my own show on leased access channels. I told him that’s way too expensive. Then I thought, `Maybe, I can fix that,” Martin said, referring to last Tuesday’s ruling to slash leased access rates by 70%.
Martin cracked that he would call his program the “That 70/70 Show” and his first episode “Cooking the Numbers.”
Martin concluded with a wacky top 10 list of predictions for the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction.
Following the auction, he said: AT&T will say the auction results prove that network neutrality is not necessary. Google will say the outcome proves network neutrality is necessary. NAB will say the auction shows that the XM-Sirius merger should not be approved.