Itâ€™s 2020. The New England Patriots, winners of six straight Super Bowls, are having yet another routine meeting with the Commissionerâ€™s Office.
Deputy NFL Commissioner Tom Brady and his chief of staff, Rob Gronkowski, OK a rule change that forgives the Patriots for illegally taping other teams and deflating football over the preceding years. Meanwhile, members of the Patriots continue to happily contribute funding for the commissionerâ€™s new 45-room castle in Turks and Caicos, and Bill Belichick agrees to continue coaching the commissionerâ€™s 12-year-old son in Pop Warner football.
Would that bother anyone? Because the above is pretty much going on today, only the team is called Google and the commissioner is the president of the United States.
Sure, since weâ€™re talking about politics, the giving and taking of favors works in a slightly more indirect way. But only slightly. As Michael Kinsley used to say, the scandal about corruption in Washington is not the stuff thatâ€™s illegal but the stuff thatâ€™s legal.
A former Google officer is the presidentâ€™s chief technology adviser. Google employees contributed more to President Obamaâ€™s re-election than did employees of any other company except Microsoft. Google lobbyists met with Obama White House officials 230 times. By comparison, lobbyists from rival Comcast have been admitted to the inner sanctum a mere 20 or so times in the same period.
Oh, and on Election Night 2012, guess where Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt was? Working for the president. In the presidentâ€™s campaign office. On a voter-turnout system designed to help the president get re-elected.
Obama lieutenant David Plouffe boasts: â€œOn Election Night [Schmidt] was in our boiler room in Chicago,â€ he told Bloomberg News, in a story that revealed that for the campaign Schmidt â€œhelped recruit talent, choose technology and coach the campaign manager, Jim Messina, on the finer points of leading a large organization.â€
Schmidt was especially fond of a madcap corner of the Obama campaign office known as â€œthe Cave,â€ where, at 4:30 every day, staffers would dance madly under a disco ball to the tune of a mashup of Psyâ€™s â€œGangnam Styleâ€ and an automated campaign phone call made to prospective voters.
Favors beget favors. And hey, presto, the FTC, in 2012, ignored the recommendations of its own staffers, which accused Google of abusive trade practices for burying competitors in their search results and recommended a lawsuit.
Instead, the FTC dropped its inquiry. Google enjoys 67 percent market share, 83 percent in mobile. No biggie, declared the FTC.
Google lobbyists have been pushing for implementation of â€œnet neutralityâ€ regulations, particularly a â€œTitle IIâ€ provision that would benefit Google. President Obama helpfully came out in support of the plan, including Title II, which was slightly embarrassing because Obamaâ€™s FCC chair, Tom Wheeler, had favored a different approach. Wheeler promptly reversed course and backed the Obama-Google plan.
Right before the FCC report was due, but before it was made public, the FCC pulled another odd reversal, removing 15 pages of policy Google apparently found out about but didnâ€™t like.
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said that the changes came about after â€œa last-minute submission from a major California based company.â€ I wonder which company heâ€™s talking about. In-N-Out Burger?
Itâ€™s not like Google is ungrateful for all of this special attention. When the newly launched ObamaCare website was plagued by evil spirits, guess which company was sent to fix it?
Googleâ€™s proton packs helped kill off the ObamaCare siteâ€™s goblins, but the country got slimed.
Still, all of this is easily forgiven compared to whatâ€™s coming next: politically filtered information.
Google says that in the future, its determinations about what is true and what is untrue will play a role in how search-engine rankings are configured.
Google has the power to bump an article it doesnâ€™t like off the table and under the rug. Even moving information off the first page of search results would effectively neutralize it: According to a 2013 study, 91.5 percent of Google search users click through on a first-page result.
To put it mildly, your idea of whether Fox News or MSNBC is a more reliable purveyor of â€œtruthâ€ might differ substantially from your neighborâ€™s.
Googleâ€™s idea of ranking results based on truth is an excellent one that it should implement just as soon as it comes up with an absolutely, unbiased and objective system of determining truth.
Iâ€™m not sure the company whose employees ranked second in all of corporate America in campaign donations to Obama can be termed neutral. Iâ€™m not sure the nationâ€™s most impartial arbiter is a guy who partied to the sounds of an Obama campaign robocall.