FCC chairman jokes he's a Verizon puppet

Commentary: Video emerges of the FCC chairman making light of his position at an industry event.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing For Ajit Pai To Remain Head Of FCC

A naturally funny man?

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The best comedy requires exquisite timing.

I can imagine, therefore, that the emergence of a video showing Fedetal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai partaking of edgy humor might not be perfectly timed for some.

Protesters have been standing outside Verizon stores this week to defend the concept of net neutrality. They fear that Pai, by eliminating Obama-era rules, is seeking to allow companies like Verizon to offer preferential treatment to businesses and charge more for all sorts of services. The FCC votes next week.

Simultaneously, Gizmodo obtained video of a speech Pai gave Thursday at the Federal Communications Bar Association's shindig in Washington, DC. 

Well, it was less of a speech and more of (one assumes) a self-lampoon. 

Just after a little piece about People's sexiest man alive, Pai launched into his summing up: "In collusion, I mean conclusion. Sorry, Freudian slip. My bad ... Many people are still shell-shocked that I'm up here tonight."

He was presumably referring to the fact that he was now FCC chairman and some worry that he's a touch too much on the side of the Verizons of this world. To explain how that happened, he showed a video that he said was 14 years old. 

Curiously, the video revealed that Pai hasn't aged a bit. It also showed him chatting with Verizon executive Kathy Grillo, the company's SVP and general counsel. 

Grillo offers: "As you know, the FCC is captured by industry. But we think it's not captured enough. We want to brainwash and groom a Verizon puppet to install as FCC chairman. Think 'Manchurian Candidate.'"

"That sounds awesome," Pai replies.

"I know, right? There are only two problems. First, this is going to take 14 years to incubate. We need to find someone smart, young, ambitious, but dorky enough to throw the scent off."


Ah, hello. This is satire. Or it's meant to be. This annual shindig is, after all, something like the White House Correspondents Dinner, which the president decided not to attend this year, having been so harshly treated in the past year. At least, he thought so.

The video continues with Pai agreeing to become the Manchurian Chairman. Grlillo, though, like a good lawyer, foresees one more obstacle.

 "We need to find a Republican who can win the presidency in 2016 to appoint you FCC chairman," she says. "I think our best bet is an outsider, but I have no idea who that would be. If only somebody can give us a sign."

Cue laughter. 

Pai, who's been at the FCC since 2007, was appointed to the commission by President Barack Obama in 2012. President Donald Trump elevated him to the chairmanship this year.

The FCC didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. However, I asked Verizon for its thoughts. 

Jim Gerace, Verizon's chief communication officer, told me: "We never knew Kathy was so funny."

Some might see Pai's performance as merely what is expected at such events. Others will worry that the humor was a little too meta for their taste.

Here, to some eyes, might have been an FCC chairman not making light of the truth, but shining a light on it.

That's the trouble with humor. Some people just don't get it. And some fear they do.