Wednesday, March 26, 2008

TV4US Astroturf Org Active in Louisiana

Well, we knew it was coming. The legislature is coming back in session and the latest push to take take local municipal property rights and hand them over to AT&T is back.

In the grand tradition of misleading advertising this is euphemistically called "statewide video franchising reform" and it is, of course, nothing of the sort. The good thing about this year's version, otherwise the same as last year's, is that 1) we've seen it before and 2) we can now show how the phone companies have failed to provide the promised benefits after they pushed through similar laws in other states. This being Louisiana, and the governor being who he is, we can't expect mere rationality to put the quietus to this. But this time those legislators that decide to be tools of outside corporate interests will have little room to pretend to be merely encouraging "competition." Such laws have not resulted in price reductions (in fact prices have risen) or much new service.

TV4US, an astroturf organization funded in part by AT&T kicked off the campaign yesterday with a press release critiquing the cable companies price rises over the last 8 years and attacking Kathleen Blanco's veto of the earlier version of statewide franchising back in 06. Regardless of how you feel about the cablecos (cough, cough) this attack on them is pretty dishonest...the release trumpets price increases going back to 2000 and then (presto chango) implies that the big jumps they list are somehow caused by the governor's veto...in 06. They don't use the 06 to 08 figures because, in fact, the price rises since the veto are quite modest. But that doesn't stop astroturf organizations from trying to confuse the issue.

TV4US claims to be a "grassroots" organization but it is nowhere composed of locals. Instead it is a national lobbying group specializing in pretending to be local when, in fact, it is a small national lobbying group funded by the corporate interests it serves which springs up "local" organizations wherever AT&T wants a law passed. (The phone number listed in the press release is located in lobbyist central: Washington, DC.) Hence: artificial grass: astroturf. TV4US runs large scale advertising campaigns and engages in push polling (something we here in Lafayette are familiar with). They are actually pretty sloppy about all this. In Michigan they tried to present a petition was riddled with people who objected to being so listed--including members of the legislature who actually were in opposition. The new "Lousiana" website is a great example: it is supposed to be a local website but is actually a carbon copy of Florida's website (which in turn is clearly a simplified clone of the national one). The copying is painfully obvious. When you get to the back pages like the "independent voices" section (gag) the logo is Florida's and the content in the "take action" section is about Florida. The contempt for Louisiana is pretty stunning. We're so dumb that we're going to believe this is an honest grassroots organization? A better fake would at least show some respect.

That doesn't mean that our legislature won't be happy to pretend to fall for it and to use the cover that faux "grassroots" support supplies one of the state's largest campaign funders. But what is disappointing is that the media is likely to simply repeat and amplify the misleading nonsense that TV4US puts out there. In fact, that has already started. This morning's Advocate has a front page story on the "news" that broke a month ago: Cox is going to raise rates "$3 dollars or more." If you travel to the end of the story what you find is that what happened to make that newsworthy just now was that "nonprofit" TV4US issued a "statement" criticizing cable companies and Blanco yesterday—a statement no doubt timed to coincide with two sets of bills: those first bills hitting consumers and several bills hitting the legislative docket. (See, HB1009, SB422, and HB869) This story was planted. The reporter would have been wise to dig into the background of TV4US—a simple google would get him all the background he needed to treat the story with appropriate caution.

Look for more of the same as the battle is engaged. The last time through it took some time—too much time—for the municipalities and the rural police jurors to wake up to threat. The reportorial crews were also slow to react though toward the end a savvy reporter seemed finally to grasp what was going on.

We're in for another fight. Look for Tom Ed McHugh of the municipal association and the posse from the police juries to ride again....

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