Comcast’s Cohen Defends Baker Hire

Urges reporters to 'move on'

WASHINGTON—David Cohen, Comcast's executive vice president, couldn't escape a grilling by reporters Wednesday over the company's decision to hire Federal Communications Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker, who just four months ago voted to approve Comcast's takeover of NBCUniversal. Cohen spent nearly all of the question-and-answer session after a Media Institute luncheon address in defending the company's decision.

Since Baker's departure from the FCC was announced last week, public interest and consumer groups have taken the occasion to bash what they see as an impropriety typical of the ever-revolving employment door in between public service and business in Washington. The story made The New York Times and was even the butt of a Jon Stewart bit on The Daily Show.

Cohen said he thought Baker's statement last Friday, in which she said that Comcast had not approached her about the position until mid-April, should put the matter to rest.

"There was nothing inappropriate. It's time to move on," Cohen said.

That didn't stop the reporters in attendance, who kept pressing Wednesday, wondering if maybe the whole thing could be chalked up to bad timing on Comcast's part.

President Obama was likely to nominate Baker for another term, but still, her current tenure was due to expire at the end of June. So why couldn't Comcast just have waited, rather than plucking her away from her job at the FCC, which attendees at the luncheon who know Baker said she liked? 

"I don't know that [her hiring] was ill-timed. We had an opening to fill," Cohen said. He added that the timing did "elevate the need to be scrupulous about ethics rules," and said, "We bent over backwards to comply. She did absolutely everything ethically and under the law and so did Comcast."

Government lobbying rules prohibit Baker from lobbying the FCC for two years. But Cohen said there is plenty of work to go around.

"She's one of the rare talents in the telecom space," he said. "We hire for the long haul."