Yesterday, we were contacted by a reporter asking our position on the possible Google/Yahoo! search advertising deal (we are opposed to such an arrangement, on both competition and privacy grounds). When we read the story online, we learned that one of the groups sending a letter to the DoJ was the Black Leadership Forum. That raised our concern, since we know that the Black Leadership Forum has had relationships with phone and cable companies. It has also, in the past at least, worked with Issue Dynamics (a company which helps phone, cable and other interests “organize” support from not-for-profit groups. I cite Issue Dynamic’s role with the Black Leadership Forum on page 75 of my book.).
We have not read the letter to the DoJ. Nor do we know of any financial or other relationship between the Forum and any of the many interests who are fighting Google (phone and cable companies, for example, are opposed to Google’s positions on network neutrality). But we believe that all financial relationships, even from the recent past, need to be identified. I know this is Washington, where too many people “lease out,” as we say around my office. But there are important issues at stake with the new media marketplace. Reporters will need to do more to identify whether there are financial and other relationships with groups from Google, Microsoft, phone and cable, etc. But the real focus should be to examine the state of competition in the online ad market–and what it means for the future of communications in the digital democratic era.