Mr. Sherman’s Magical ThinkingFebruary 10, 2012
I am always impressed with the utter unwillingness of the Entertainment industry to acknowledge the world as it actually is, rather than the world as they want it to be. Perhaps it is a side effect of being in the business of ‘selling dreams.’ In any event, I could not help but marvel at Carey Sherman’s recent New York Times Op Ed “What Wikipedia Won’t Tell You.” Mr. Sherman, the CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and one of the chief lobbyists behind the push for PIPA and SOPA, just cannot believe that anyone could find flaws in the most perfect bill he and his fellow Hollywood lobbyists wrote – especially when they tried so hard to keep balanced and respect the opinions of others! Happily, Mr. Sherman knows who is really responsible for this travesty – that wicked pair of Internet troublemakers Google and Wikipedia! Thankfully, the pages of the New York Times have given poor Mr. Sherman a rare opportunity for the industry which controls television, radio, movies, and cable news to state his case and expose Wikipedia and the rest of ‘Big Knowledge’ for the pirate conspiracy they really are.
(The reasonable person might pause to ask “Wikipedia? Why on Earth would a non-profit online encyclopedia want to engage in a nefarious scheme to deceive the American people? It makes no sense.” But set that aside for the moment.)
Mr. Sherman expresses his dismay at the “digital tsunami that swept over the Capitol” that, he believes, “raised questions about how the democratic process functions in the digital age.” Needless to say, Mr. Sherman is unhappy with the answers. Rather than learning like King Canute of old that no man may order the tide to come and go as he will, Mr. Sherman insists that the digital tsunami was ordered by that nefarious duo, Google and Wikipedia, who vilely deceived an unwitting public with “misinformation.” Still, Mr. Sherman magnanimously offers to forgive them if they will only now engage in some “reasonable” backroom negotiations with a handful of Congressional staffers. “‘Come,’ says Mr. Sherman, channeling his inner Isaiah, ‘let us reason together. Though your sins are like scarlet, we will wash them clean with PAC money. Join us in the Smoke Filled Room and we will pretend to engage you this time. Really. After all, would we lie?’”
Mr. Sherman is only one of many disappointed lobbyists for the entertainment industry expressing similar views. My colleagues in the SOPA protests have reacted to this amazing combination of patronizing arrogance and delusion as to the state of the world with a range of emotions from outrage to utter bewilderment. More than a few have written pieces setting the record straight for those who weren’t hip deep in this from the beginning. In addition to PK’s Ernesto Falcon’s response, Ars Technica’s Nate Anderson and TechDirt’s Mike Masnick have both written point-by-point rebuttals.
But for myself, I can only feel pity for Mr. Sherman and his Hollywood friends. I have no doubt Mr. Sherman and his fellow Hollywood lobbyists who have mastered the traditional Washington game of $2500-a-plate fundraisers and the privileged access they bring feel themselves genuinely aggrieved by what happened last month. From their privileged perspective, the “democratic process” they knew and loved was swept away by this awful “digital tsunami” of real people articulating real concerns and objections. Like many people caught up in the destruction of the world they knew, Mr. Sherman and his fellow Hollywood lobbyists fall back on the “magical thinking” of the two-year old. ‘It can’t be real,’ they tell themselves – huddling together in the trendy DC bars that serve as the equivalent of Red Cross centers for DC Lobbyists swept away by digital tsunamis. ‘It can’t be people. It must be another special interest like us. Nothing has changed. Nothing can change, so nothing has changed. We’re still fine. We’re still in charge.’
Happily for the rest of us, the digital tsunami that swept over the Capitol last month, forcing Congress to set aside bad legislation dealing with online “piracy,” did indeed answer some pivotal questions about how the democratic process functions in the digital age. After a long, bad period of dysfunction, the democratic process may finally start working again. Yes, it takes a lot of work from a lot of people to break through the walls erected by Mr. Sherman and others to “protect” elected officials from the people they represent. But now we know it can be done.
Needless to say, those used to the traditional Washington game are having some trouble adjusting. As Mr. Sherman explained, under Washington game rules, bringing in the public is a “dirty trick” and a cause for alarm. For the rest of us, it’s a level playing field – and a cause for celebration.
About Harold Feld
Harold Feld is Public Knowledge’s Senior Vice President and author of “The Case for the Digital Platform Act,” (Public Knowledge & Roosevelt Institute 2019) a guide on what government can do to preserve competition and empower individual users in the huge swath of our economy now referred to as “Big Tech.” Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler described this book as, “[...] a tour de force of the issues raised by the digital economy and internet capitalism.” For more than 20 years, Feld has practiced law at the intersection of technology, broadband, and media policy in both the private sector and in the public interest community. Feld has an undergraduate degree from Princeton University, a law degree from Boston University, and clerked for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Feld also writes “Tales of the Sausage Factory,” a progressive blog on media and telecom policy. In 2007, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin praised him and his blog for “[doing] a lot of great work helping people understand how FCC decisions affect people and communities on the ground.”