John Sundman wants sexy details on John McCain, Vicky Iseman, and Paxson Communications. I’ll tell all I know.
Cornerstone TeleVision had sought to obtain the noncommercial license for WQEX, owned by Pittsburgh public broadcaster WQED, and then to transfer the license to Paxson Communications with Cornerstone and WQED splitting the $35 million Paxson was putting up for the sale. The proposal was virtually unprecedented since it involved transfer of noncommercial license held by a public broadcaster to a commercial enterprise. The complicated plan was an attempt to end-run a 1996 FCC ruling that WQEX could not be “dereserved,” i.e., commercialised, by a direct sale to a commercial broadcaster.
The Republican minority on the FCC supported the plan, the Democrats opposed… until John McCain weighed in via his December 10, 1999 letter to the FCC, demanding that the FCC Commissioners ”advise me, in writing, no later than close of business on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 1999, whether you have already acted upon these applications…. If your answer to the latter question is no, please state further whether you will, or will not, be prepared to act on these applications at the open meeting on Dec. 15. If your answer to both of the preceding questions is no, please explain why“ (the full text of McCain’s letter to FCC Chairman William Kennard may be found here).
McCain had held up confirmation of Democrat Susan Ness’ reappointment to the FCC since the previous July. Apprised of McCain’s adamant support for Paxson on this issue, Ness voted against her fellow Democrats to approve the deal. As far as I know, the only ones getting screwed in all this were the Democrats by Ness (who caved to pressure from McCain — and despite repeated gutlessness in dealing with the Republican Congress Ness is frequently mooted as the next FCC Chairman if Clinton is elected).
And even then the well-laid plan of Paxson fell apart over a condition placed by the FCC on the deal, prohibiting Cornerstone from ”proselytising,” an important issue, since the transfer involved a religious broadcaster taking over an educational TV station.