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Gigi Sohn withdraws from nomination for FCC spot

Sohn's tweets on telecom, cable news outlets and media organizations drew criticism from lawmakers.

Sohn's tweets on telecom, cable news outlets and media organizations drew criticism from lawmakers.

Gigi Beth Sohn, who is nominated for a commissioner spot with the Federal Communications Commission, appears at a U.S. Senate hearing. (Graphic by The Desk)
Gigi Beth Sohn, who is nominated for a commissioner spot with the Federal Communications Commission, appears at a U.S. Senate hearing. (Graphic by The Desk)

Gigi Sohn, a lawyer nominated by President Joe Biden to fill a vacant spot on the commissioner board at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), withdrew her name from consideration on Tuesday.

The withdrawal came after a 16-month confirmation process, during which Sohn was hammered by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for her record on lobbying and the perception that she was too partisan in her views on the telecommunications industry, particularly broadcasting and cable.

In a statement, a White House spokesperson said Sohn would have “brought tremendous intellect and experience, which is why the president nominated her in the first place.” Sohn characterized herself as a victim who had to fight “legions of cable and media industry lobbyists, their bought-and-paid-for surrogates, and dark money political groups.”

“It is a sad day for our country and our democracy when dominant industries, with assistance from unlimited dark money, get to choose their regulators,” Sohn complained in a statement sent to the Washington Post newspaper. “With the help of their friends in the Senate, the powerful cable and media companies have done just that.”

Since her nomination in 2021, Sohn has faced strong opposition, primarily from Republican lawmakers in Congress, who accused her of partisan extremism.

Some Democrats echoed similar sentiments, with Senator Joe Machin affirming on Tuesday that he would vote against confirming Sohn for the vacant FCC spot.

“Ms. Sohn has faced unprecedented, bipartisan opposition to her nomination as a result of years of partisan activism, inflammatory statements online and partisan alliances with far-left groups,” a spokesperson for Machin’s office said in a statement. “She has also spent many years as a public interest advocate, using similarly inflammatory language on social media.”

During an appearance on Capitol Hill last month, Sohn attempted to ease concerns about her partisanship, stating a desire to see satellite broadcaster DirecTV investigated by the FCC for its decision to drop conservative commentary channel Newsmax. While DirecTV has characterized the removal as a business decision — Newsmax reportedly wanted to charge DirecTV for the channel after years of making it available to the satellite company for free — officials at Newsmax have colored it as a “de-platforming” of a political channel, language that Sohn herself repeated during a hearing in February.

Sohn said DirecTV’s decision to pull the channels was emblematic of a larger problem between pay television providers and distributors, one where programmers are able to offer “bundles” of channels intertwined with so-called “most-favored nation” clauses that can push out independent programmers like OAN and Newsmax.

“Because [the FCC] has been so busy working on broadband, sometimes these important media consolidation issues get pushed by the wayside,” Sohn said. “So I think this is an opportunity, the de-platforming of Newsmax, to look at the practices of bundling and most-favored nation clauses.”

Typically, the FCC does not get involved in private business disputes between a pay television provider like DirecTV and the owners of any broadcast or cable network, instead allowing the mechanics of the free market to dictate whether a platform decides to carry a channel. Sohn’s comments suggested a willingness to have the FCC probe a private business matter, though it wasn’t clear if the agency had any legal or regulatory mechanisms to probe the issue or force a deal.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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