“The law requires that we do what's in the ‘public interest.’ If we don't have input from the public, it's kind of arrogant to say that we somehow know better than the public what's good for them."
——FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein


Populist, Rural Supporter, and Anti-Payola Crusader

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein has called for an investigation of the payola practices uncovered by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, stating: “It’s a real tribute to Eliot Spitzer that he has blown the lid off a potentially far-reaching payola scandal. I’ve been expressing concern about this for some time in terms of enforcing our federal rules, but it took someone with Spitzer’s tenacity and subpoena power to bring forward solid evidence...We’ve seen a lot of smoke around payola for a while, but now we know it’s coming from a real fire. It’s time to dump a bucket of cold water on it. It's unfair to listeners if they hear songs on the radio because someone was paid off, not because it's good music. We need an immediate investigation to determine whether these practices violate federal payola laws. I’ve asked Mr. Spitzer to share all of the evidence that he has uncovered with the FCC...This is a potentially massive scandal...”

In other words, Jonathan Adelstein is a name that those interested in the music business—specifically, the records and radio business—will be seeing a lot in the media in the months ahead. But exactly who is Jonathan Adelstein? Since we’ve got absolutely nothing better to do on this hot Southern California afternoon, we lazy bums at HITS thought it might be worthwhile to give you some of the pertinent details on the life of this relatively young buck...

The 42-year-old Adelstein was born and raised in Rapid City, South Dakota, the son of Republican South Dakota State Representative Stan Adelstein. He received a B.A. (with Distinction) in Political Science from Stanford University and an M.A. in History from Stanford University. He also studied at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is a graduate of Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.

Before joining the FCC, Adelstein served for 15 years as a staff member in the U.S. Senate. For the seven years prior to his appointment, he was a senior legislative aide to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), whom he advised on telecommunications, financial services, transportation and other key issues. Before that, he served as a professional staff member to Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman David Pryor (D-AR), including an assignment as a special liaison to Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), and as a legislative assistant to Senator Donald W. Riegle, Jr. (D-MI). Prior to his Senate tenure, Adelstein held a number of academic positions, including: teaching fellow in the department of History at Harvard University; teaching assistant in the department of History at Stanford University, and communications consultant to the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

During his time in the Senate, he was known as a strong voice for rural issues. He also developed a reputation for being open to lobbyists. “He’s someone people can approach and speak to,” David Krone of Yankees Entertainment and Sports, and a former lobbyist for AT&T Broadband, told Broadcasting & Cable shortly before Adesltein’s FCC nomination. “Everyone will get a fair hearing with him.”

In February 2002, on the recommendation of Daschle, President George W. Bush nominated Adelstein to fill the vacant seat on the FCC left by Gloria Tristani, previously the sole Commissioner enforcing broadcast decency laws, who left to challenge Pete Dominici (R-New Mexico) for his Senate seat. The nomination received early support from industry leaders, including Verizon, Qwest and the National Association of Broadcasters (“[We] strongly support the nomination,” NAB President/CEO Eddie Fritts said in a press release at the time. “Jonathan’s commitment to public service and his firm grasp of broadcasting and telecommunications issues will serve him well at the Commission”)—and on December 3, 2002, Adelstein was sworn in as a member of the FCC. He was sworn in for a new, full five-year term on December 6, 2004.

During the Spitzer investigation, Adelstein asked the American public to help the FCC in monitoring and enforcing the rules against airing undisclosed promotions, including Video News Releases and product placements. At his urging, the Commission issued a unanimous Public Notice on VNRs and a fact sheet on payola, which stated that payola rules “are grounded in the principle that listeners and viewers are entitled to know who seeks to persuade them with programming.”

As the above statement and his rural roots seem to illustrate, Adelstein would appear to be a populist at heart. He was a strong dissenting voice against more media deregulation and greater cross-ownership—and was pleased when the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of such media giants as Sinclair and Tribune. He went against former FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who favored more deregulation and was opposed to the Supreme Court decision. “We think it's a great victory for the public over a handful of the biggest and most powerful media companies in this country,” Adelstein told BuzzFlash.com during an intriguing recent interview. “It is an opportunity for us to go back, start fresh, and get it right this time. The last time, the majority of FCC commissioners really made a disastrous decision, and [fellow Commissioner] Michael Copps and I vigorously dissented. It was the most destructive rollback of our media ownership rules in the history of American broadcasting. This time, I think the FCC could do a much better job by involving the public more, consulting with Congress more fully, and doing what's in the best interest of the public and not a handful of media giants who seek to profit by using the public airwaves.

“The law requires that we do what's in the ‘public interest.’ If we don't have input from the public, it's kind of arrogant to say that we somehow know better than the public what's good for them. We need to involve the public and involve Congress—listen to what the public thinks is best for them...I did anticipate a pretty strong negative reaction, having spent a lot of time with people outside of the Beltway. I went out of the confines of the FCC building here, and got out and talked to people in communities across the country. I found a unanimous chorus of concern and opposition to letting these media giants get even bigger.

“I was really heartened by the degree to which Congress took up the call, because it's not always the case that you get such a reaction. But the public was really organized. And the good news is that, this time around, I think people are more educated, more mobilized and more prepared. It's going to be even more difficult to get away with a thoughtless action like the one that the FCC majority took last time... [It’s] important that we not loosen the media ownership rules. The last remaining bulwark against the domination of one viewpoint on the airwaves, be it from the left or the right, is that there be a diversity of viewpoints expressed, and that there are many different options for the public to draw from in terms of owners of the media outlets. Then hopefully people can get the information they need to make up their own minds, rather than being disproportionately influenced by a handful of giants that might dominate the discourse in any given community.” Read the entire interview at http://www.buzzflash.com/interviews/05/06/int05026.html

Another interesting piece of trivia in the Adelstein saga is that he’s the brother of Lt. Col. Dan Adelstein, whose Pentagon office was destroyed when attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001. The Colonel survived because he was across the hall at the time.

Adelstein currently lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his wife Karen, son Adam and daughter Lexi.

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