A must read Buzzfeed article gives you one of those rare insights into how Google actually works at the highest levels of government with merely the flick of an email at a huge Federal bureaucracy–the Federal Trade Commission. Remember them? The FTC are the ones that punted on their antitrust investigation of Google for mysterious reasons.
Courageous Wall Street Journal reporter Brody Mullins & team came up with an internal FTC staff report proving that the unanimous decision of the FTC’s political appointees not to prosecute Google for antitrust violations was expressly taken against the advice of the professional legal staff. Mullins’ reporting called into question an entire series of decisions by the U.S. Government not to look too hard at Google’s high handed business practices or its monopoly behaviors. The Wall Street Journal team put that story in context by publishing another expose of Google’s influence peddling in Washington.
Faster than you can say “Jamie Gorelick”, Google’s lobbyists swung into action. If you were a sleaze bag bunch of crony capitalists that had captured every agency in Washington, what you’d need right about then was to push a button at the FTC and have them issue a useful public statement. And that’s exactly what Google did according to Buzzfeed’s reporting:
On the evening of March 23, Johanna Shelton, a senior lobbyist at Google, emailed an official at the Federal Trade Commission with a pointed request: release a public statement that would help the search giant deal with a negative story. Two days later, the agency did just that.
Shelton’s email was sent in the wake of [Brody Mullins’ reporting]. In response to the revelation, the FTC issued only terse statements calling the release of the document unfortunate.
But Shelton, in an email to Heather Hippsley, the FTC’s chief of staff, urged the FTC to say more, arguing that the agency’s own reputation was at stake.
Yeah, right. That’s a typically Googley move–it’s not that we care, oh, no. It’s for your own good. And what exactly is for your own good? Releasing the statement they want released or complying before Google calls the White House and ends your career at the FTC?
Google was “deeply troubled” and “puzzled” by the agency’s silence on the matter, Shelton said in the email, which emerged in response to a public records request and was obtained by BuzzFeed News. She said the inadvertently released document was being used by Google’s rivals to “sow confusion and undermine the FTC’s conclusions, especially in Europe.”
That would be the European Commission antitrust investigation which Google had been slow walking for four years and that had just blown up in their faces. (And is now going full bore against them.) This is important because the Wall Street Journal revealed that the professional staff at the FTC had been sharing information with their counterparts in Europe–you know, the ones that are now prosecuting Google. Get out your hazmat suit, because here comes the bullshit:
“We believe it is critical for the FTC to defend its reputation, showing that it followed a thorough process and fully took into account the Bureau of Competition staff memo, among other internal agency opinions including the Bureau of Economics,” Shelton said in the email. “A public statement standing by the FTC’s ability to make a final decision after assessing differing internal views would go far in the international space to restore the reputation of the FTC, especially on due process.”
Two days after the email was sent, and after the Wall Street Journal published another article about Google’s relationship with Washington, the FTC released a statement that provided the context Shelton had sought.
The email also included this paragraph:
We recall that in February 2013, when the process and result [of the FTC’s investigation into Google] were similarly called into question by our competitors [and anyone else capable of sequential thought] every Commissioner, including then-Commissioner Ramirez, wrote a clarifying letter to the editor of Politico standing by the staff and their work in this matter. We believe this unfortunate FOIA incident is similarly worthy of a public statement of the FTC standing by its decision.
Now how do you suppose that “clarifying letter” got written to politico? How do you think that it got signed by every FTC commissioner? Because they thought it was a good idea? Or because somebody told them to sign their names to it?
Because as Ms. Shelton suggests, failing to go public and “explain” the FCC’s decision not to prosecute Google would make them look…well, sleazy or something, right? Particularly when the European Commission goes forward with their own prosecution?
And do you think that Google isn’t trying to do the same thing in Europe?
[Google lobbyist] Shelton, for her part, keeps in close contact with government authorities. She has visited the White House more than 60 times, the Journal noted in its follow-up article.
Of course the real question is who prompted Ms. Shelton’s email? Someone higher up at Google? Almost surely. But who put them in motion? Who is the prime mover in this case?
Emmy Award winning reporter Sharyl Attkisson has an excellent Ted Talk on the subject of astroturf and how Washington works. She’s focused more on drug companies, but the admonition works well for Google, too.