The future continues to haunt FCC’s Chairman Powell

Does Michael Powell have a future at the FCC? After weeks of speculation that he wanted to leave his job as chairman at the politically divided agency, Powell firmly indicated he planned to stay. Now, mixed signals about the future are coming from the embattled FCC chief himself.

“I have a tired family, tired children and a tired spouse. Candidly, I once said I would be in this job for three years and then leave. That was three years ago,” Powell told the New York Times in an uncharacteristically candid interview published last week.

The FCC chairman told the newspaper that he had been thinking recently about how much longer he might remain at the commission. “I’ve gone through various moments about wanting to leave,” he said. “I have a kid who is starting high school who was six when I started this. I’ve been in public service for 20 years. People see this bruising summer and say, ‘Oh, he must be going.’ It’s not always fun. It’s not necessarily that much longer. There is an election ahead.”

Powell said that he’d been the victim of an outside political campaign run against the FCC over media ownership issues. “I’ve never seen that in six years at the FCC,” he said.

Asked about accusations that he failed to build enough public support for the rules before adopting them, Powell responded: “I've heard that represented as my failure. I’ll take that as my responsibility. But there was a concerted grass-roots effort to attack the commission from the outside in.”

Powell acknowledged that as “a matter of principle,” he had deliberately avoided doing any political work in advance of the new ownership rules, even as his critics assembled the coalition against them. “Michael Copps went out into the country six months before we did anything, and I credit him,” Powell said of his Democratic colleague who led the opposition to the rules.

Powell said that while some members of Congress opposed the new rules on principle, others—whom he refused to identify—did so to settle old scores. These lawmakers, he said, simply wanted to take revenge against media companies that support the new rules but that had been critical of the lawmakers.

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