September 29, 2007

Verizon Gets the Message

The “Hear Us Now?”* Award of the Week goes to Verizon for initially declaring it would not carry NARAL’s text messages — because internal policy prohibited “controversial or unsavory” text messages — only to reverse its decision hours after it became public.

The controversy raised important legal questions about the power of private companies to censor political communications — and the flaky reasoning given for the review.

“It was an incorrect interpretation of a dusty internal policy,” said Jeffrey Nelson, a company spokesman. “That policy, developed before text messaging protections such as spam filters adequately protected customers from unwanted messages, was designed to ward against communications such as anonymous hate messaging and adult materials sent to children.”

NARAL’s messages are of the call-your-congressperson variety. For example: “End Bush’s global gag rule against birth control for world’s poorest women! Call Congress. (202) 224-3121. Thnx! Naral Text4Choice” (wanna’ try it? click here.)

So was it as simple a mistake at Nelson claims? Well, Ann at Feministing has some background on a 17-year-old grudge between Verizon’s policy chief Tom Tauke and NARAL. In the 1980s, Tauke was an anti-choice congressman from Iowa, and he lost a Senate bid to Tom Harkin in 1990. NARAL gave a lot of money to Harkin, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In an article in the National Review that summer before the election, Richard Brookhiser wrote:

Harkin is pro-abortion down the line; Tauke wants a constitutional amendment recognizing “the personhood of the unborn.” “When NARAL comes into the state,” Tauke says, “I’m not going to sit back and take it.”

Tribune political reporter James Oliphant also did a little digging into Verizon’s political connections:

Interestingly, Verizon’s general counsel is none other than William Barr, the former attorney general under President George H.W. Bush who was briefly mentioned as a possible successor to Alberto Gonzales. Verizon’s campaign contributions are more bipartisan however. Its political action committee has thrown money to Republicans and Democrats alike, with special attention paid, of course, to the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the telecom industry.

*Award title taken from Oliphant’s blog post.


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