Three days after he allegedly had a temper tantrum at a Chinatown bank, Christopher Barry writes on Facebook that he is continuing his campaign for his father's old DC Council seat. Barry, 34, writes on his Facebook page that he "learned from my father a long time ago not to get bogged down and deterred by sensationalism and the frivolous." He also notes that he is "feeling fantabulous," pairing the emotion with a smiley face.
Barry's father, of course, is the late Marion Barry, whose death last November created a vacancy in Ward 8. The younger Barry announced last week that he will try to get on the ballot for an April 28 special election, running under his legal name, Marion Christopher Barry. His campaign website and logo refer to him as Marion C. Barry, with the slogan "The Legacy Continues."
According to a police report made public Wednesday, Barry allegedly started an altercation with employees at a PNC Bank branch in Chinatown after being told he could not make a withdrawl because his account was overdrawn. Barry allegedly reacted by threatening the teller.
"You always give me a hard time,” he said, according to police. "I’m going to have someone waiting for you when you get off, you bitch."
The report also alleges that Barry threw a trash can over the teller's protective glass barrier, breaking a security camera. No charges or arrests have been made in the incident.
Barry does not explicitly mention Tuesday's events in his Facebook post, but he does refer to the public scrutiny his family has existed in for decades and his own past legal troubles. He was sentenced to 18 months probation in 2011 on multiple drug charges, and pleaded guilty last year to drunk driving.
Barry is scheduled to continue campaigning through the weekend. According to his post, he is attending a ceremony at the St. Elizabeths Hospital East Campus honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders, including his father. He will also be marching as the grand marshal in Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade.
Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.
For its latest act of institutional chest-beating, Politico has installed a siren in its Arlington newsroom that goes off every time the website breaks news, according to an internal memo sent Friday morning by chief executive Jim VandeHei. The siren, per VandeHei's memo, is just one component of Politico's strategy for 2015, a year in which it plans to expand its investigative and enterprise reporting teams and launch a European addition.
The siren, according to Politico staffers, is the noisy brainchild of Blake Hounshell, the site's editorial director.
"Is Blake really installing a siren in the newsroom?" VandeHei writes. "Yes. He and Susan"—Glasser, Politico's top editor—"want people jacked when we break news, whether it's a quick hit from one of our policy teams or a holy-crap scoop from the Congress gang. It has been and always will be our core strength."
Politico is enjoying a run of good fortune. It received two National Magazine Award nominations this week, including general excellence for its bimontly print magazine. Further down his memo, VandeHei writes that Politico was profitable in 2014 and grew its revenue by 25 percent, padded by growth in premium subscription products and live events at both the mothership and Capital New York, which it acquired in 2013. The same formula is in the works for Europe.
"We have spent eight years perfecting a blend of high-end ads aimed at policy and political leaders; high-end subscriptions and first-class events," VandeHei writes. "This worked here, is working in New York, through our sister publication, Capital, and soon will be proven to work in Europe, where this spring our European edition will go live. We are confident we have created a scalable model—so we will scale it, methodically but aggressively."
Although VandeHei says Politico will continue to invest in its paid platforms and longform journalism, do not expect any slowdown in the heavy-artillery coverage of Congress, the White House, and the impending presidential campaign. "The big reason is our ambitions have changed: we not only want to be the dominant publication covering politics and policy in Washington—we want to be the dominant media player in this space nationally AND globally," he writes. "This means we need to up all parts of our game."
While Politico's appetite appears to be expanding everywhere, breaking-news sirens are just a Rosslyn thing, for which Politico Europe-bound reporter Carrie Budoff Brown is relived.
Read VandeHei's full memo below:
Magazine award nominations. Staff coming. Staff going. Europe Expansion. Newsroom sirens.
With so much happening so fast, we all feel dizzy. So I decided to sit down and grill myself on what's really going on behind the curtain at POLITICO. In all seriousness, these are questions I have gotten in my various staff meetings this past week. It makes sense for all of us to know our thinking on them.
I plan on doing a similar note more heavily focused on expansion and business soon, so please keep the questions flowing. Email them to me directly and copy Kayla Cook.
So, what's the deal with the state of POLITICO? There seems to be lots of people coming and lots of people going. Does this suggest a big shift in direction?
There is no media company growing with more conviction and muscle than us. We are investing heavily in going deeper and wider in Washington politics and policy - and expanding nationally AND globally, so the state of POLITICO is strong as hell. We have a leadership team below me that any CEO in our industry would kill for and a Publisher above with more courage and ambition than any peers. More importantly, this place is stacked with talent in editorial, business and technology that makes explosive growth so attainable.
This is a transformational moment for us. And this means some people are leaving and many more have joined and will join. I think people thought we were joking when we said big change was coming. We were not.
But why have people left?
Three things keep in mind here. First, we are a talent factory, and proudly so. This is a big secret to our success. We are as good as it gets in finding, grooming and promoting the best of the best. We help make you better and more valuable. The downside of this: our competitors are very eager to hire this talent. Such is life in a competitive market. Second, we are in the middle of a substantial transformation of our newsroom - basically marrying our killer instinct and news chops with more investigative and deep-dive journalism. This demands an influx of new talent. I hate to see people I admire go. They worked their tails off to make this place great - and deserve nothing but our thanks and appreciation. Third, I think any healthy, high-achieving company must have turnover every year to stay sharp. Keeping the same staff and doing the same thing forever isn't a sign of success - it's stagnation.
The one thing that bothers me about some coverage of comings and goings is the lack of emphasis on the flood of new talent. I would argue we haven't seen this big and sustained influx of big, proven editing and reporting stars since our initial staff-up in 2007.
Has our strategy changed? It seems like there is much emphasis on the magazine or long-form side of things. Isn't that a shift from killer metabolism of old?
Hell NO...and hell yes. We want to sharpen and expand what made us great: the killer instinct, the maniacal focus on scoops and authoritative dominance on politics and policy. That will never change. But that just isn't enough to drive the conversation in 2015. You need to do more because everyone else is trying to be fast and edgy like us. So, we are pouring millions into adding deep-dive, original reporting to the arsenal. It's not either-or. We want to be better - way better - than anyone else at BOTH. That is what we are doing.
Is Blake really installing a siren in the newsroom?
Yes. He and Susan want people jacked when we break news, whether it's a quick hit from one of our policy teams or a holy-crap scoop from the Congress gang. It has been and always will be our core strength.
But why have so many of the recent hires been for enterprise and investigative positions then?
Susan's transformational newsroom plan will take several months to unfold in full. We rock at what we have always done - hence, our endless flow of breaking news on Capitol Hill and the campaign. Her first phase is to build out what we didn't have: editors and reporters to work across the newsroom to deliver investigative and enterprise stories only a place with our talent and expertise can deliver. Phase two will be to fortify the rest of POLITICO, starting with the political team.
Wait: if POLITICO rocks, why change at all?
The big reason is our ambitions have changed: we not only want to be the dominant publication covering politics and policy in Washington - we want to be the dominant media player in this space nationally AND globally. This means we need to up all parts of our game.
A lot of media companies wait until it's too late to sharpen their approach. Complacency is a slow, sly killer. John and I have always promised that we will never let that happen here.
What we are doing is trying to serve our very sophisticated readers and subscribers a combination of speed, authority and hard-to-replicate-or-steal original content. We believe in this short-attention span world of today, this is how you break through, protect and grow your brand and deepen your relationship with your readers, subscribers and advertisers. It is our hope that this mission inspires the most talented editorial, business and technology minds to stay, come and do something important and special on a global scale. And it is our belief that our readers, subscribers and advertisers value us so much because we are relentlessly thinking about how you make great greater.
This makes sense. But then why do I read so much coverage about our moves - some if it critical or snarky - on other sites?
You just can't get worked up about criticism. In fact, you should be humble enough to mine it for any truth. We are not a conventional company. This reminds me of my first cool assignment as a reporter. I am a Packers fanatic. As a young sports reporter in Oshkosh, I was sent to interview Chuck "The Hitman" Cecil, a young safety who hit like a bullet train. He was sitting at a table, mobbed by people. I asked him if this ever gets old, all the swarming and questions and criticism. He said "beats the hell out of being on the other side of the table, ignored." I agree with Chuck.
Are we making money?
We were profitable again in 2014 and grew revenue by 25 percent AND invested big in expansion. Roy Schwartz is a terrific Chief Revenue Officer and his team is on quite a roll. I would be surprised if anybody in media has a more talented and driven business team - or a more ambitious and dedicated Publisher than Robert Allbritton.
We have spent eight years perfecting a blend of high-end ads aimed at policy and political leaders; high-end subscriptions and first-class events. This worked here, is working in New York, through our sister publication, Capital, and soon will be proven to work in Europe, where this spring our European edition will go live. We are confident we have created a scalable model - so we will scale it, methodically but aggressively.
So when will POLITICO Europe go live?
This spring. Harris is leading the expansion into Europe. He hired an amazing editor, Matt Kaminski from the Wall Street Journal, and they are going on a hiring spree. Bill Nichols and Danielle Jones are playing huge roles in helping John pull this off. By the end of the year, POLITICO should have more reporters and editors on politics and policy than any publication on that continent. And our very own Carrie Budoff Brown will be among the star writers for our European edition.
Maybe this is distracting you guys, pulling you away from our core mission?
Nope. We have worked methodically for the past 18 months to make this moment a successful and profitable one for all. We expanded our leadership team - and John and I both took on more expansive roles to handle the various aspects of growth. What should comfort you and leave you with unshakable confidence is that the leadership team below us is insanely talented, high-achieving and capable. This expansion allows leaders like Kim Kingsley to take on bigger, more influential roles and run substantial parts of the company. That's the whole game, folks: having tons of talent to execute a smart, proven plan. Thanks to all of you, we have it. So never lose that swagger. And enjoy this huge growth spurt ahead.
Thanks for reading - and for all you do.
PS - Please do keep firing me questions.
Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.
Remember former DC Mayor Vince Gray's ultimate news dump? The one in which he said, with just hours remaining in his term, that the long-anticipated streetcar running along H Street and Benning Road, Northeast, would finally open to the public the week of January 19? Yeah, that's not happening.
According to WAMU, District Department of Transportation officials say next week has been "taken off the table" as the beginning of fully fledged streetcar service. The report does not give a new projected opening date, but that hardly comes as a surprise—DDOT has been almost completely silent about the streetcar since January 2, when Mayor Muriel Bowser was sworn in. If anything, the streetcar's latest missed deadline is more of a knock on the Gray administration, which repeatedly promised residents that the streetcar would begin running in mid-2013, then late 2013, then sometime in 2014.
Streetcar planning dates back nearly a decade, with former mayor Anthony Williams hosting the ceremonial groundbreaking. Bowser, the fourth mayor to oversee the project, supported the H Street line during her time on the DC Council, but since being elected mayor has backed away from her predecessors' visions of an eventual 37-mile network criss-crossing the city, saying instead she wants to "right-size" the system.
Even before the latest delay, the streetcar was off to a rough start this year. Streetcars, undergoing a seemingly never-ending testing phase, have collided with cars on H Street nine times since October, while safety inspectors continue to find faults with DDOT's protocols and documentation.
UPDATE, 2:25 PM: In a statment, new DDOT head Leif Dormsjo says the agency is done setting "arbitrary deadlines" for the beginning of passenger service aboard the streetcar and will defer to the State Safety Office, a division of the Fire and EMS Department that determines the streetcar's readiness.
"Passenger safety is the number one priority for public transportation in the District of Columbia," Dormsjo says. "Further, given the need to achieve safety certification, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) will not set arbitrary deadlines for the independent State Safety Office (SSO) to complete their regulatory compliance review. The Bowser Administration will work to launch the H Street line of DC Streetcar as part of our effort to expand the District’s transportation infrastructure and will put this long-delayed line on track. DDOT will continue to work with the independent SSO to ensure that Streetcar meets—and exceeds—all safety specifications before setting an official date to begin passenger service."
In other words, DDOT's new bosses really would have preferred it if the outgoing mayoral administration hadn't stuck them on the hook for an unrealistic goal. And the streetcar will open whenever it opens. If it ever opens.
Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.
The next presidential election is still 22 months away, but Washington-area residents are about to get blitzed with thousands of automated phone calls on behalf of a political cause anyway. The Oneida Indian Nation, a New York tribe, is sponsoring a wave of robo-calls urging locals to support their push to get Washington's NFL team to change its name.
The minute-long call features the voices of two self-professed Washington fans, Ian Washburn and Josh Silver, asking their fellow burgundy-and-gold supporters to join them in demanding top-to-bottom changes at the woeful football team, which just put fans through an embarrassing 4-12 season.
"After missing the playoffs again, it’s clear things need to change—including our team’s name," Washburn says.
Says Silver: "Native American tribes, national civil rights organizations, and elected officials from both parties agree. We represent America’s capital; and it’s time we demonstrate our commitment to the ideals of equality and civility."
While the Oneidas launched their campaign against the Washington team and owner Dan Snyder before the 2013 season, the effort has failed to get much traction beyond the support of various elected officials who, no matter how high-ranking, do not have much influence over professional football. But the robo-call might renew the Oneidas' campaign in asking people to contact Anna Isaacson, the NFL's new vice president of social responsibility, about the Washington team's name.
A poll released last November, also sponsored by the Oneida nation, found that while four out of five people agree it would be offensive to call a Native American a "redskin," 72 percent believe the term is acceptable as the name of a sports team, a split the pollsters attributed to "fan blindness." A flood of 10,000 robo-calls, which Oneida spokesman Joel Barkin tells Washingtonian is just the first round, is aimed at lowering fans' blinds.
Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.
Upping its circulation from 60,000 to 5 million, the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo quickly sold out across Parisian newsstands on Wednesday when it released its first issue since a terrorist attack killed 11 of its staffers and a police office guarding the publication. The attack gave the magazine sudden global notoriety, especially here, where the Washington Post has been running copies of Charlie Hebdo's controversy-stoking artwork and images of its latest front page, which depicts the prophet Muhammed holding up a sign reading "Je suis Charlie."
But anyone who wants an actual copy of the eight-page publication will need to be expeditious about it over the next few days. The entire United States is only getting 300 copies out of Charlie Hebdo's initial print run of 3 million, with small batches being distributed in New York, Washington, California, and a few other pockets with a large number of French speakers, according to Martin McEwan, a vice president at Montreal-based LPNI, which distributes the magazine in North America. Charlie Hebdo hasn't been distributed in the US since 2010, and its typical North American exposure is just 100 copies shipped to Quebec every week.
McEwan says he's "hoping for a heavy up over the weekend" when Charlie Hebdo prints an additional 2 million copies, but for now, he only expects the Washington market to get 30 copies out of the initial pressing. Most of that batch appears destined for The Newsroom, a newsstand and deli a few blocks north of Dupont Circle, although a store employee tells Washingtonian he does not know exactly when Charlie Hebdo will be on its racks. LPNI expects its 300 US-bound copies to arrive Thursday and will then ship a portion of those to Southwest Distribution, a magazine and newspaper wholesaler that distributes periodicals in the Washington area.
If the magazines arrive in DC on Friday, they will most likely go on sale Monday, says Southwest Distribution's Himali Perera, though it is still unclear how much copies will cost. (Charlie Hebdo sells for two euros in France.) Perera says other area stores that sell foreign publications have also requested copies.
Even though Charlie Hebdo's newest cover is again attracting condemnation from Muslim leaders for its visualization of Muhammed, which is prohibited by Islamic law no matter how tastefully drawn, Perera says there is no hesitation in distributing the magazine because of the reasons why it is now a household name.
"This is why people are buying it," she says.
Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.
Metro, which rarely inspires much public confidence on normal days, will be picked apart in the coming weeks and months after an incident Monday near the L'Enfant Plaza station left one passenger dead and more than 80 others hospitalized when a Green Line train stalled in a tunnel and filled with smoke.
While the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is deferring to federal regulators on the investigation into what happened yesterday, the immediate cause—electric arcing—is something the transit system has dealt with before, and without deadly consequences. Arcing is the result of a plasma discharge, and actually happens fairly often on Metro, according to a 2013 report, but rarely with any serious consequences.
Metro got a scare about electric arcing back on January 30, 2013, when a segment of the Green Line near Anacostia lost power after an insulator supporting the electrified third rail experienced electric arcing, causing several trains to shut down and spewing a cloud of smoke. Like yesterday, the 2013 incident happened right at the beginning of the afternoon rush hour, sending commuters into a tailspin. Also like yesterday, passengers aboard a train several hundred feet away from the nearest platform "self-evacuated" and navigated their way through darkened tunnels.
While Metro applauded the perfomance of most of its personnel that day, the transit agency's follow-up report still showed several failures. While passengers on one of the stalled trains commended its operator for keeping people calm and informed, many riders from the other complained about being stuck in the literal and figurative dark during their ordeal. As many as 150 of them eventually got off the train themselves and walked back before officials could reach them, more than an hour after the power went out. The report also noted that arcing insulators occur an average of twice per month.
So why was yesterday's emergency so much worse? That won't come out until the National Transporation Safety Board completes its investigation, but the immediate evidence is unsettling. Besides the frequency of electric arcs, Metro also experienced a sharp increase in the number of smoke- and fire-related incidents between 2013 and 2014, NBC4 reported last July. There are about 100,000 insulators spread across 117 miles of track, and many of them need replacing; Metro put out a request for proposals last February for bidders to replace as many as 35,000 of them over a five-year period.
Yesterday's scene resulted in the first passenger fatality since the 2009 Red Line crash near Fort Totten that killed eight riders and one train operator. And Monday's incident shared some elements of that grisly event. Some of the cars on the smoke-filled train that was stuck about 1,100 feet from the L'Enfant Plaza platform were 1000-series stock, the oldest in the system's inventory and equipment that the NTSB demanded Metro rid itself of after the Red Line disaster. When the NTSB files a report on Metro's latest accident, there may be yet another citation about an outmoded fleet.
Metro was supposed to start rolling out its newest cars, the technologically advanced 7000 series, by this month. But safety inspectors representing DC, Maryland, and Virginia recently faulted the transit agency on its safety inspection protocols, potentially delaying the rollout and leaving Metro passengers riding old rail cars on tracks in need of repair.
Two Washington Post stories published Monday evening showed the cover of the satirical French weekly Charlie Hebdo. A blog post published by Michael Cavna and a Paul Farhi story about ... the Washington Post publishing the cover both show the artwork, which features the prophet Muhammad holding a sign that says "Je suis Charlie" under the legend "Tout est pardonné" ("All is forgiven").
The Post declined to publish Charlie Hebdo's cartoons in its news pages after two gunmen killed staffers there last week, though its opinion section published in its print edition only a 2011 cover mocking Muhammad. (Some Post blogs ran Charlie Hebdo covers, Farhi writes, "but there is debate about whether those featured Muhammad or were of a generic Muslim man.")
Post Executive Editor Marty Baron, who does not edit the opinion section, told Farhi "Our policy has been to avoid publication of material that is pointedly, deliberately or needlessly offensive to members of religious groups. That remains our policy, but this doesn’t fall into that category.”
The New York Times declined to publish Charlie Hebdo material, and its story about the new cover describes but does not show it. Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet told the paper's public editor, Margaret Sullivan, the question was about “At what point does news value override our standards?" and that an approach like the one the Post opinion section took "is probably so compromised as to become meaningless,” though Sullivan notes he "was speaking generally, not of The Post’s decision."
Staffers were told Monday afternoon that Storyline and Wonkblog would become one.
"When we looked at the best way to maximize readership of our public policy reporting, we recognized that having one central hub made the most sense," the Post's national economy and business editor, Gregory Schneider, tells Washingtonian.
The Post conceived Storyline as a complement to Wonkblog after Wonkblog founder Ezra Klein left the publication to cofound Vox.com. Before Storyline even had a name, Schneider and fellow business editor David Cho said it would "tell stories through the voices of ordinary Americans, we will tell stories with numbers, and we will tell stories with our users’ help."
Jim Tankersley, who joined the Post in late 2012, was named Storyline's editor, and the initiative launched with a fair amount of trumpeting, including some good press and a snazzy video. He'll remain Storyline's editor, Schneider says.
Schneider says the integration will make it "easier for more reporters to contribute the types of stories seen on Storyline, without confusion over where they should live on the site." Storyline staffers are part of the paper's financial team, and the project will still have staffers dedicated to it, he says, but they'll "have the flexibility to contribute to other beats within Financial" and they'll also contribute to Wonkblog, whose ranks will grow.
A Storyline piece published not long after the launch took a gruesome editor's note that said a source had lied to reporter Jeff Guo. Post media blogger Erik Wemple questioned some of the editorial choices on the story, including the decision to describe events as if Guo had witnessed them, which he had not.
Since Jeff Bezos bought the Post in 2013 the publication has added more than 100 newsroom employees and sought a larger national and international audience. This change to Storyline would seem to be a rare contraction.
But Schneider says the move will benefit the Post's audience. "We think this change makes it easier for our readers to find the kind of public policy reporting they are looking for, and to continue to present more of it across the board," he says.
Holster your phasers: the 2024 Summer Olympics won't be coming to Washington after all.
The United States Olympic Committee is nominating Boston, a flinty New England fishing village, as its candidate city, allowing DC residents who shuddered at the projected costs of hosting the Games reason to finally exhale after nearly 18 months of buildup.
The International Olympic Committee will make its final selection in September 2017. Any US city was considered to be a strong contender, as the Summer Olympics have not been hosted in North America since Atlanta in 1996. Besides Boston and Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco were also in the running.
Washington's bid, which would have encompassed the District and suburbs, was considered a longshot by oddsmakers. Organizers, led by businessman Russ Ramsey and Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, envisioned using the region's existing sports venues for many events and building an Olympic Village east of the Anacostia River. The centerpiece would have been replacing RFK Stadium with a brand-new Olympic stadium, which could have potentially been converted after the Games for use by Washington's NFL team.
Local politicians tried to make the the hard sell, too, with Mayor Muriel Bowser joining Ramsey and Leonsis in making DC's final pitch to the USOC last month. But the Olympics were always a tough sell to the public. Although the organizers said Washington could host the games for less than $5 billion, the actual costs of previous Olympiads have been far above that projection. In recent days, organized opposition to the Washington bid started to emerge.
The USOC's decision, coming after a long meeting in Denver, was unanimous. "Today’s decision begins the next phase in our 2024 bid campaign, and we couldn’t be more excited about the partnership we’ve established with the leadership team in Boston," USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun says in a press release.
"Despite today’s outcome, I am proud of how the District and the region presented," Bowser says. "I also want to congratulate Mayor Marty Walsh and the City of Boston for winning the right to represent our great nation to compete on the world stage for the 2024 Olympic Games. They have my full support, and I will be cheering them on to bring the games to America."
Boston will now embark on a nearly three-year tease to the IOC. If it's selected, get ready to watch an Opening Ceremony live from a stadium full of people in Tom Brady jerseys.
And, hey, if the IOC passes over Boston in favor of one of the other cities expected to compete for the 2024 Games—expected to include Rome, Paris, Berlin, and Johnannesburg—there's always 2028.
Find Benjamin Freed watching the Olympics on TV, or on Twitter at @brfreed.
A suburban Washington Comcast office maintained detailed lists of influential customers, including local government officials, business leaders, and a congressional field office, according to a 2005 lawsuit and a person familiar with the case.
The legal documents show that--as of 2005--Comcast Cablevision of Potomac kept “highly sensitive and confidential lists of subscribers, including targeted lists of hundreds of the best (highest revenue producing), highest profile, or most satisfied customers, known as ‘Platinum,’ ‘VIP’ or ‘Happy Customer’ lists.”
A footnote in Comcast's legal filings defined these “VIP” subscribers as “customers who may be an elected official, public figure, or other person of importance.”
A person familiar with the case says that the “VIP” lists consisted entirely of customers in Montgomery County, Md.; the lists included local mayors, city council members, the heads of major corporations, and leaders of civic organizations. No members of Congress appeared on these lists, according to the person familiar with the case, although one congressional field office did.
A Comcast spokesperson declined to explain why such “VIP” lists were compiled or whether the company still maintains such lists. “Comcast does not and has not offered special service, perks or free upgrades to lawmakers or public officials,” the spokesperson said in a statement to Washingtonian.
Philadelphia-based Comcast--the nation’s largest cable operator--is currently seeking regulatory approval for its blockbuster, $45-billion merger with America’s second biggest cable company, Time Warner Cable. If approved, the deal would hand Comcast control of more than a third of the nation’s broadband internet coverage. Comcast has unleashed an influence-peddling blitz to ensure the deal goes through. According to the most recent data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Comcast spent nearly $12 million dollars on lobbying in 2014, the sixth most of any company in America.
Washingtonian reported in December that Comcast's government-affairs team toted "We’ll make it right" cards with "priority assistance" codes that fast-tracked help for congressional staffers, journalists, and other influential Washingtonians who complained about their service.
Tom Karinshak, Comcast’s senior vice president for customer experience, responded to the story on the company’s website. He said Comcast makes the cards available to each of its 80,000 employees, who are then free to hand them out to any customer who complains of cable or internet problems. “The card is not used to target specific customers or parts of the country,” Karinshak wrote.
Responding to questions about the “VIP” customer lists, the Comcast spokesperson said in the statement the company “does not and has not operated a dedicated VIP phone number or Web site in any market including the Beltway region.”
The existence of the “VIP” lists came to light in a little-noticed nine-year-old lawsuit, which Washingtonian recently obtained. In August 2005, Comcast sued Melody Khalatbari, a former public affairs manager responsible for Montgomery County, for misappropriating trade secrets. According to documents Comcast filed in federal court, Khalatbari had left the cable giant for a job with a key competitor, Verizon. But before her departure, Comcast said, Khalatbari transferred more than 75 Comcast files to her home computer. The “VIP” lists were among the documents Comcast accused her of taking.
In court documents, Comcast alleged that Khalatbari planned to use the confidential materials at Verizon and demanded more than $75,000 in damages and an injunction preventing Khalatbari from using the documents. Khalatbari later agreed to return the materials.
Khalatbari could not be reached for comment for this story.
Here's Comcast's 2005 filing: