President Obama’s diversity czar at the Federal Communications Commission has spoken publicly of getting white media executives to “step down” in favor of minorities, prescribed policies to make liberal talk radio more successful, and described Hugo Chavez’s rise to power in Venezuela “an incredible revolution.”
Mark Lloyd’s provocative comments - most made during a tenure at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank - are giving fodder to critics who say Mr. Obama has appointed too many “czars” to government positions that don’t require congressional approval. They are also worrying to some conservatives who fear the FCC might use its powers to remove their competitive advantage on talk radio and television.
Many of the remarks have been unearthed by conservative-leaning writers and bloggers and discussed on cable television amid a broader critique of Mr. Obama’s penchant for czars that exploded with the ouster this month of “green jobs czar” Van Jones.
In one of his more eye-opening comments, Mr. Lloyd praised Mr. Chavez during a June 2008 conference on media reform, saying the authoritarian Venezuelan president had led “really an incredible revolution - a democratic revolution.”
In a video clip of the conference that has been aired by Fox News personality Glenn Beck and others, Mr. Lloyd seems be siding with the anti-American leader against independent media outlets in his own country, some of which supported a short-lived coup against Mr. Chavez in 2002.
“The property owners and the folks who then controlled the media in Venezuela rebelled - worked, frankly, with folks here in the U.S. government - worked to oust him,” Mr. Lloyd said. “But he came back with another revolution, and then Chavez began to take very seriously the media in his country.”
Mr. Chavez in fact forced the nation’s oldest television network, RCTV, off the air in 2007 by refusing to renew its license, replacing it with a state-run station that showed cartoons and old movies while protesters marched in the streets against the shutdown. His government has also threatened to shut down Globovision, one of two TV channels that continue to criticize Mr. Chavez.
Mr. Lloyd said in a formal statement provided to the Washington Times through the FCC that his comment was being misinterpreted.
“The point I was trying to make was that there was dramatic social change in places like Rwanda and Venezuela and that media played an important part in that. I am not a Chavez supporter. I do not support any political leader other than the president of the United States. I do believe all Americans would benefit from more opportunities to participate in media and that the answer to ugly speech is not censorship, but more speech.”
At another conference, Mr. Lloyd spoke about the need to remove white people from powerful positions in the media to give minorities a fairer chance.
“There’s nothing more difficult than this because we have really truly, good, white people in important positions, and the fact of the matter is that there are a limited number of those positions,” he said.
“And unless we are conscious of the need to have more people of color, gays, other people in those positions, we will not change the problem. But we’re in a position where you have to say who is going to step down so someone else can have power.”
He added: “There are few things, I think, more frightening in the American mind than dark-skinned black men. Here I am.”
Andrew Breitbart published the audio of the conference on his Breitbart.com Web site on Monday. Mr. Breitbart said the recording was made during a conference on media reform and racial justice in May 2005.
Other bloggers are questioning Mr. Lloyd’s commitment to free speech based on a line in his 2006 book, “Prologue to a Farce: Communication and Democracy in America.”
“At the very least, blind references to freedom of speech or the press serve as a distraction from the critical examination of other communications policies,” Mr. Lloyd wrote. “The purpose of free speech is warped to protect global corporations and block rules that would promote democratic governance.”
The FCC was asked about the passage, but a spokesman was unable to provide an explanation late Tuesday.
Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon Republican, asked FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski about Mr. Lloyd during a hearing last week.
“There are comments - video comments about Hugo Chavez,” Mr. Walden said. “I mean, there’s some pretty outrageous things being said, having been written in the past. And that troubles me that somebody that’s that opinionated, to the extreme element that he is - from my perspective, is not going to bring balance to that diversity position that you’ve created.”
Mr. Genachowski said Mr. Walden’s worries were misplaced. “Mark Lloyd is not working on these issues,” Mr. Genachowski said. “He’s not working on Fairness Doctrine issues. He’s not working on censorship issues. He’s … working on opportunity issues, primarily now on broadband adoption, focusing on making sure that broadband is available to all Americans.”
However, Seton Motley, communications director for the conservative-leaning Media Research Center and contributing editor to Newsbusters.org who has written critically about Mr. Lloyd on several occasions, said Mr. Lloyd appeared Tuesday at a meeting held by the FCC’s advisory committee on diversity that discussed the need to increase lending and licensing to minority-owned media outlets.
“They say he’s not involved in licensing and he’s involved in researching diversity,” Mr. Motley told the Washington Times, “but he sat in a meeting where licensing is very much part of the deal.”
A meeting agenda posted by the advisory committee says that “national broadband plans recommendations” also were discussed.
When asked for a clarification of Mr. Lloyd’s role at the FCC, a spokesman provided a letter that was written by Mr. Genachowski on Aug. 23 to Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican.
The chairman said Mr. Lloyd’s responsibilities were to help promote diversity of voices and “enhance opportunities for women, minorities and small businesses to participate in the communications marketplace, including the FCC’s auction and licensing requirements.”
In 2007, Mr. Lloyd co-authored a study for the Center for American Progress titled “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio,” which went into detail on how licensing rule changes could be used to bring more political balance to the airwaves.
Mr. Lloyd and co-author John Halpin argued in favor of concepts called “ownership diversity” and “localism” that would require government action to put more women and minorities - who are more likely to be liberal - on the air on independently owned stations. They said this would balance out the large broadcast networks, which they said are more likely to put male, conservative hosts on the air.
The researchers also proposed putting caps on the ownership of commercial radio stations, giving local authorities more control over radio licensing and requiring commercial owners “who fail to abide by enforceable public interest obligations” to pay fines that would go toward public broadcasting.
Mr. Grassley was sufficiently alarmed by the ideas that he sent a letter to Mr. Genachowski in August complaining that Mr. Lloyd had essentially advocated a “backdoor” way of reinstating the Fairness Doctrine - an old law that required broadcasters to provide opposing points of view on their programs.
The Center for American Progress, however, stood by the policy recommendations Mr. Lloyd proposed to the FCC while working at their think tank.
John Halpin, a senior fellow at the center who was the lead author on the study he wrote with Mr. Lloyd, said in a statement to the Washington Times, “Part of the FCC mandate is to promote localism, diversity and competition in the media. …
“When 91 percent of the talk radio programming broadcast each weekday is solely conservative - despite a diversity of opinions among radio audiences and the proven success of progressive shows in key cities - the market has clearly failed to meet audience demand. Our goal has always been clear: We want more free speech and diversity of views in the media, not less.”