Senator Ted Cruz has criticized efforts by a media watchdog to challenge the broadcast license renewal of a Fox-owned television station in Philadelphia.
The comments were made prior to a vote on Thursday that ultimately confirmed former telecommunications attorney Anna Gomez to fill a long-standing vacancy at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
Cruz opposed Gomez’s nomination to the FCC, saying her appointment to the agency would give the Democratic Party a majority to push forward with a number of matters that he believes are rooted in partisan politics.
The senator pointed out that, even with the FCC currently deadlocked between two Democrat- and two Republican-nominated commissioners, the agency was already entertaining various initiatives that he finds politically objectionable.
Specifically, Cruz called out efforts by the startup watchdog Media and Democracy (MAD) Project to challenge the broadcast license renewal of WTXF (Channel 29), a Philadelphia television station owned by Fox Corporation.
Cruz colored MAD as a “radical, left-wing group” that urged the FCC to scrutinize the license renewal as part of a “truth commission,” saying the push was an “alarming assault on the First Amendment.”
Reached by The Desk on Thursday, a spokesperson for MAD said the group “respect[s] the First Amendment and a free press as central to American democracy” and said Cruz’s “characterization of this effort couldn’t be further from the truth.”
“MAD is a non-partisan grassroots organization, and our petition before the FCC is not about the First Amendmen,” the spokesperson affirmed. “The issue here concerns a massive media corporation that, with management’s full knowledge and approval, is documented to have lied to millions of Americans. The question before the FCC is not whether Fox had a right to lie, rather it is about the consequences of those lies and the impact on its qualifications to remain a broadcast licensee using the American people’s airways.”
MAD first filed its informal objection to the license renewal in July, saying the matter deserved the FCC’s attention because the station’s parent company, Fox Corporation, agreed to pay $787.5 million earlier this year to settle a defamation case brought over election-related misinformation aired on two Fox-owned cable news channels.
While Fox operates its broadcast stations separate from its cable news business, MAD says the issue requires the FCC to evaluate the character of the company and its executives, Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch. The fitness of a person or corporation’s character is one element that the FCC is able to consider when awarding a broadcast license or approving a renewal for a license already in place.
MAD’s campaign has the support of several former Fox executives, including Preston Padden, a former senior network official who once served as Rupert Murdoch’s right-hand man. Jamie Kellner, the first president of the Fox Broadcast Network, has also filed a letter with the FCC in support of MAD’s effort.
On Thursday, Padden emphasized that MAD’s campaign was bipartisan in nature, and rejected Cruz’s assertion that his organization was a “radical, left-wing” group whose agenda was political in nature.
“The Fox Petitioners at the FCC are bipartisan including Bill Kristol, former editor of Murdoch’s conservative Weekly Standard magazine, Al Sikes, former Republican Chairman of the FCC and me, a long-time Republican enabler of Fox!” Padden wrote in an email to The Desk. “No one, except Senator Cruz, is talking about a ‘truth commission.'”
Officials for Fox Corporation say the FCC should reject MAD’s challenge to the renewal application, because the group has failed to pinpoint any specific problem with the operation of WTXF itself. No evidence has been offered that proves any of the election-related misinformation aired on the two Fox cable channels were also broadcast on WTXF, the officials say.
While license renewal applications are typically routine events with little scrutiny, the FCC last month agreed with a request by MAD to convert the issue into a “permit-but-restrict” matter, which allows all sides to lobby the FCC, its commissioners and staff. It also allows members of the public to comment on the issue — and dozens of Philadelphia-area residents have done just that.