MICHAEL COPPS ' 67
intended to ensure local voices in broadcasting
and musical variety on the air.
The crowd whoops. Later on this December
night, Jonathan Adelstein, the other Democrat
on the FCC board, joins the band on harmon-
ica as it tears into People Get Ready, Curtis
Mayfield's anthem from the civil rights era.
If a rock club seems an odd place to find an
aging federal 'official, it's because Copps, who's
64 and earned his doctorate in history at Car-
olina in 1967, has shown himself to be some-
thing more than the usual bureaucrat.
He has turned a usually thankless, low-pro-
file job - being a member of the minority
party on a federal commission - into a bully
pulpit. In the process he has done as much as
anyone in Washington to put two issues, media
consolidation and raunchiness on the airwaves,
at the top of the nation's agenda. Granted, he
got high-profile help from Janet Jackson and
Justin Timberlake on naughty programming.
For his media-consolidation fight, he has
cobbled together a coalition of allies reaching
from the National Rifle Association to Com-
mon Cause. And for an old-school Democrat,
he has won unlikely admirers.
Says Brent Bozell, a conservative newspaper
columnist and president of the Parents Televi-
sion Council:"But for Mike Copps, the FCC
wouldn't be doing its job today." The Copps-
spurred crackdown led to shock jock Howard
Stern being booted off several radio stations
and to NBC being censured for rock singer
Bono's use ofa particularly dirty word during a
telecast of the Golden Globe Awards.
What's more, Copps has outfoxed FCC
Chair Michael Powell; as Andrew Jay Schwartz-
man, a well-known Washington communica-
tions lawyer, told The New York Times, he has
"run rings around Powell."
Powell misjudged public sentiment about
ownership of the airwaves. (Under federal law,
the public owns the airwaves.) He approached
the issue as the FCC approaches many - as
the referee of a dispute among its corporate
constituents - and tried to push it through the
commission with little public input. Copps, in
contrast, saw the agency as custodian of the
closest thing the country has to a town square
and insisted that the public's voice be heard.
"The commission thought this was going to
be just another inside-the-Beltway thing and
that nobody was going to care about how
many stations a company could own," Copps
says. "We'd just do it behind closed doors. I sus-
pected that there was tremendous grassroots
interest, and there was. We heard from 2. 3 mil-
S e prernber l O ctober 2004
FCC Chairman Michael Powell looks on as Commissioner Michael Copps ' 67 speaks during
a hearing on media ownership before the commission In Washington in June 2003. Federal
regulators relaxed decades-old rules restricting media ownership, permitting companies to
buy more television stations and to own a newspaper and a broadcast outlet in the same
city. Copps cast one of the dissenting votes.
lion Americans." More than once, e-mail mes-
sages, which Copps says overwhelmingly
opposed deregulation, swamped the agency's
"Their basic message was, 'Somebody's
messing with my airwaves, I don't like them
trying to freeze me out of the process, and I'm
mad as hell.' "
Copps' admirers credit his knowledge of his-
tory and his willingness to leave Washington's
usual corridors of power, travel to places like
the 930 Club and listen to nOrITlal folks as keys
to his effectiveness.
Copps, says fellow FCC Commissioner
Kevin Martin ' 89,"is straightforward and
direct, but he listens well, too." Martin, who
was student body president at UNC, says those
qualities plus their cOl11111on Carolina tie have
enabled the two to build a good relationship,
despite their political differences.
"Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that two
Tar Heels would get along," Martin says. Copps
returns the praise, calling his fellow alunmus "a
first-class lawyer" and adding,"In good Car-
olina tradition, he's a man of his word."
Not all of Copps' ideological opponents are
as complimentary as Martin. His detractors say
that his strongly held convictions blind him to
the realities of modern media."He's doctri-
naire," says one leading media lawyer.''I'd tell
He has turned a usually
thankless, 10w-prC?file job
- being a member
i f the minority party
on afederal commission -
into a bully pulpit.
In the process he has done
as much as anyone
in Washington to put two
issues, media consolidation
and raunchiness on the
airwaves, at the top if the