Former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd is taking a beating online lately, and for good reason. In his post-Senate life Dodd heads up the Motion Picture Association of America, a highly influential Hollywood lobby, and has become the face for proponents of the badly flawed anti-piracy bills SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act).
Both acts, charge critics, are written in such a way that legitimate sites would be in danger of being shut down, and are therefore major threats to free expression and the exchange of ideas. Dodd has rapidly become one of the most hated men on the internet thanks to his lobbying for the bills, and this statement from the MPAA with his name attached to it issued in response to ‘blackout’ protests by some of the web’s major sites doesn’t help matters:
“It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today. […] A so-called ‘blackout’ is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals.”
Dodd’s remarkably tone-deaf statement was immediately panned all over the internet, including by Markos at Daily Kos, who found Dodd’s characterization of shutting down websites for twelve hours to protest a dangerously flawed bill as an “abuse of power” baffling. Another major Daily Kos poster took Dodd to task for his condescending tone, among other things.
It wasn’t always this way. Daily Kos has long been one of the banner sites for progressive politics online, and during the early stages of the 2008 presidential campaign Dodd found a much different reception there. “Chris Dodd stood up for us in a way we haven’t seen from anyone else,” one poster said after Dodd went toe-to-toe with Bill O’Reilly in defense of the site. In fact, Dodd found a surprising amount of support on progressive blogs and other sites during the campaign. A November, 2007 mass email from his campaign touted strong online fundraising and the “spike in traffic and mentions on progressive blogs” the campaign had received. This was due in part to an innovative social media strategy and the presence of forward-looking campaign operatives like Lamont 2006 veteran Tim Tagaris, and in part to a focus by Dodd on issues online activists cared about.
In fact, Dodd’s attitude towards the online world in general has shifted mightily in the time since his doomed presidential campaign. In 2007 Dodd spoke to Google employees about the need to protect the internet as a tool of free expression and criticized the company for allowing censorship in China, and in 2009 Dodd spoke out on the need to support net neutrality, saying “I will continue to fight to expand broadband Internet access – and the free flow of information – to every community in America,” in a press release. SOPA/PIPA critics charge that the bills would amount to censorship of the internet (a charge Dodd bats away without much consideration) and the MPAA has taken a stand against net neutrality as being favorable to piracy.
It’s a remarkable turnaround, and a sad epilogue to a largely stellar and noteworthy career in national politics. Dodd’s rush to embrace the MPAA mere months after promising not to become a lobbyist followed by the heated controversy surrounding SOPA/PIPA has left a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths. The entire affair is a testament to the warping effect and crushing influence powerful lobbies have.
Dodd isn’t finding a lot of support these days as public opinion turns against the bills, even from members of the Connecticut congressional delegation. Several members, including Reps. Jim Himes, Rep. Joe Courtney, and even his former chief of staff Rep. Rosa DeLauro have come out against the legislation, and others are keeping quiet. The MPAA and Dodd in particular are the focus of a huge backlash online, and plenty of people who once sang Dodd’s praises are instead voicing their anger at him.
He should be tempted to wonder if it was all worth it.
Susan Bigelow is the former owner/author of CTLocalPolitics.com. She lives in Enfield with her wife and cats.