OMG! @FCC Commissioner Baker voted 2 approve Comcast/NBC merger & now is lving FCC for A JOB AT COMCAST?!?
With this May 12 tweet on Comcast Corp.'s hiring of the Federal Communications Commission's Meredith Attwell Baker, the Seattle nonprofit Reel Grrls lobbed a social-media grenade that has raised questions about how closely Comcast monitors the nonprofits it financially supports.
A peeved Comcast vice president in the Seattle area, after reading the tweet, dashed off an e-mail saying the Philadelphia company was eliminating Reel Grrls' funding for a summer workshop for teenage girls - a none-too-subtle message that the nonprofit was paying the price for publicly criticizing the company.
After learning of the Seattle V.P.'s decision in news reports, Comcast executives apologized and offered to restore its $18,000. But the damage had been done.
The story was out of the bag, and Reel Grrls said it no longer wanted Comcast's financial help because it apparently came with strings.
Then there was this issue for those at Reel Grrls: What was Comcast, a company with more than 100,000 employees and $50 billion in annual revenue, doing monitoring and then aggressively responding to a tweet by their six-employee nonprofit?
"People were really surprised that a big company like Comcast is monitoring the Twitter feed of a small organization like Reel Grrls," said Lila Kitaeff, an official with the group and the tweet's author.
"We were not aware they were monitoring our social-media sites. And they never said that we had to voice certain values on those sites," she added.
Along with teaching young women about filmmaking, the nonprofit group teaches them media literacy and issues related to media consolidation - thus the tweet, Kitaeff said.
Comcast said that its vice president's e-mail hadn't been authorized and that there was no corporate policy of monitoring the social-media sites of the nonprofits or making support for Comcast's corporate policies a condition for financial donations.
"This was one person. This is not a corporate policy," Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said this week.
"We sincerely regret the actions of this one unauthorized employee," the company said in a statement, adding that the actions do "not represent how our company treats our community partners."
In fairness, the e-mail was out of character for Comcast, which has been a big supporter of nonprofit organizations and has been expanding its charitable projects in the cities where it operates. Many nonprofit organizations backed the company's effort to acquire a controlling interest in NBC Universal Inc., a deal that closed in January. Nonprofit leaders testified on behalf of Comcast at a public hearing in Chicago, and hundreds of groups filed supportive letters in Washington.
But the Comcast e-mail also was delivered at a sensitive time for the company because of the controversy over the Baker hire. Critics point to it as a brazen example of the "revolving door" culture at the FCC, which regulates cable, telephone, and broadcast-TV companies.
Baker voted in January for Comcast's deal for NBC Universal Inc. In June, she will go to work for the company. A Republican with ties in Washington and Texas, Baker has said she did nothing wrong.
The hiring has been fodder for editorials in the New York Times and The Inquirer, and The Daily Show's Jon Stewart did a segment on it. U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has sent the FCC a letter asking for more information on Baker's departure for Comcast.
In the e-mail to Reel Girls, Comcast vice president Steve Kipp said he was disappointed in the group's tweet. "I respect your position on freedom of the press," he wrote. "However, I hope you can respect that this tweet has put me in an indefensible position with my bosses. I cannot continue to ask them to approve funding for Reel Girls, knowing that the digital footprint your organization has created about Comcast is a negative one."
He ended the 160-word e-mail saying, "I am truly sorry that Comcast's partnership with Reel Girls had to end on such a sour note."
Kipp did not respond to an e-mail from The Inquirer.
Several days after Kipp's message to the organization, Reel Girls notified media reporters around the country. When Comcast quickly acknowledged its mistake, Reel Girls initially seemed amenable to accepting the restored funding, but later declined.
"We felt there had been a breach of trust," said Kitaeff
Instead, the group raised money through an e-mail campaign. The response was overwhelming. Kitaeff said Thursday that Reel Girls had raised $22,000 from about 600 donors.