Bob Garfield Crusades Against the Cable Provider
By Bob Garfield
Published: November 19, 2007 Bob Garfield’s jihad against his cable provider makes one thing clear: Companies ignore customer-service complaints at their own risk. From Land Rover’s Discovery debacle to Dell hell, the online insurrection is here to stay.
“Never pick a fight,” Mark Twain is reputed to have observed, “with a man who buys his ink by the barrel.” It was certainly true.
|Photo illustration: John Kuczala
A powerful publisher, if he was irritated enough, had the wherewithal to bury any adversary. It’s still true, actually, although the truism needs to be slightly amended. In the digital age, never get in a dispute with someone with access to a computer.
Because if he is aggrieved enough, and righteous enough, and persistent enough, and connected enough, he can bury you. Or at least make your life miserable for a long, long time. He doesn’t need to have a chain of newspapers; all he needs to have, basically, are fingers and rage.
For people with anger issues, the internet is a cathartic godsend and/or lethal weapon. You know the type — people who might accept the ordinary indignities of life with reasonable equanimity but become suddenly radicalized when lied to, cheated, bullied or otherwise personally abused. This kind of person will cheerfully invite a shopper with two items to move ahead of him in the checkout aisle but will pointedly confront the jerk who butts into a movie line — even if it means a loud squabble. This sort of guy might hypothetically even be disinvited from a trans-Atlantic flight on security grounds were an airline-counter employee to mishandle visa documentation, then lie to his face about seating availability, then, caught in the lie, choose to regard his resulting swearword and general seething as a sign of imminent violence and bounce the poor s.o.b. from the flight. And the next one.
In other words, a guy just like me.
Setting things right
Some of us — no matter how generally sweet-natured and generous, no matter how friendly and thoughtful, no matter how empathetic and transcendently kind — are simply not to be screwed with. Because when we are wronged, we will go to rather extreme lengths to be righted. Back in September, this was something Comcast Corp. did not know.
When they just plain pissed me off.
My story, sadly, is not especially unusual. Since personally being victimized by the company I call Qualmcast, I have read hundreds and hundreds of similar horror stories, so I will therefore not afflict you with the details of the arrogant, highhanded, dishonest, incompetent, inhuman and fundamentally asinine treatment I suffered at the hands of the cable monstrosity’s “customer service.” Just lots of not showing up, lots of broken promises, lots and lots of hold time, and an installer who left in the middle of a job “to get a drill bit” and never came back. So, in the spirit of the book I am writing on adapting to the digital age — I call the process Listenomics — plus maybe just a touch of vengeance, I fought back. It was just a brief post on my Ad Age blog. In it, I summarized the events recounted above and added a few personal thoughts:
Is this company so frantic to seize market share on voice and broadband that it is willing to disrupt customers’ lives, fail to appear, repeatedly lie to them, walk out on them and then treat the customer as if he or she is a nuisance? Well, we shall see. This is the Listenomics age. We will not take it quietly.
Probably more notable than the text of the rant, though, was its headline — which, in my view, had a nice ring to it: “Comcast Must Die: Seeking Ideas for a Consumer Jihad.”
This apparently struck a nerve; within 24 hours there were 60 comments, which compared very favorably to my previous average of zero. Some were long-winded recitations of incidents far more egregious than mine. Some were words of encouragement and support for a holy war against the whole Co-axis of Evil. Yet others wrote in to give me exactly the help I solicited. Within an hour, someone had called my attention to a YouTube video of a cable installer asleep on a customer’s sofa, where he had lapsed into slumber while on hold with his own company. And another had this to say:
“Perhaps what should be done is to buy the web domain comcastmustdie.com and establish a blog so that all of the folks that have been screwed by Comcast can tell their story. You could put a link to the new Comcast Jihad website and release a press release to drive traffic to the site. The anger and disgust expressed there would be huge.”
Hmm. Using the web to galvanize consumer anger and disgust. An interesting idea. Of course, as I well knew, it had been done before. In November 2004, an English gent named Adrian Melrose bought a brand-new Discovery 3. It was a lemon. But his dealer, and Land Rover itself, were insufficiently responsive. So he began a blog called “Discover the Truth About Land Rover Discovery 3″ and took his complaint public. For weeks, Land Rover ignored the blog even as Melrose began to accrue hundreds, and eventually thousands, of sympathetic comments. The notoriety became so embarrassing Land Rover replaced the man’s car — whereupon the replacement immediately broke down too. Then, while they were fixing that, a loaner broke down. Then a second loaner broke down — and the whole misadventure was chronicled, of course, on Melrose’s blog.
Finally they refunded him his money, triggering accusations that he had blackmailed — or, shall we say, blogmailed — the company into submission. But it wasn’t blackmail at all. Melrose was simply exerting the leverage the digital age has bestowed upon consumers to make lemonade out of lemons. To this day, if you Google that model, you encounter Melrose’s blog on the first page — at God knows what cost to the company in showroom traffic. Yet, incredibly, the brand still has no online forum for FAQs and service bulletins, much less complaints. Melrose offered to turn over his blog for that very purpose, but the company declined. As he put it in the summer of 2007:
Land Rover U.K. needs an efficient platform to listen and care for their customers. The reason I am getting 700 hits to www.haveyoursay.com, mostly search engine driven, is because their existing customers want to talk to one of their favorite brands — just like me. They want to be loyal — but they are frustrated ’cause they think nobody listens.
Adrian Melrose achieved Google perpetuity more or less by accident. In what may have been a defining moment in Listenomics, someone else contrived to do the same thing on purpose. This was on June 21, 2005, when blogger Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine finally got fed up with computer seller Dell.
One Dell of a commotion: Jeff Jarvis took the computer maker to task after a poor customer-service experience.
“I bought a Dell laptop, and it didn’t frigging work,” he says, but that was just the first part of the problem. The second part was Dell’s handling of his complaint — which was, for want of a better term, sadly Comcastic. “Too many e-mails, too many phone calls, too much frustration. I went on my blog, and I created a post headlined ‘Dell Lies, Dell Sucks.’ That wasn’t just an indication of my immaturity. It was search-engine optimization.”
Yes, Jarvis knew that his blog was so widely read and, more important, widely linked to that any subsequent Google search for “Dell” would yield a results page prominently displaying “Dell Sucks.” In fact, the last line of his post was: “Put that in your Google and smoke it, Dell.”
Eventually, like Land Rover and Comcast, Dell intervened, and Jarvis got his refund, but not before the situation got far beyond its control. Even now, if you type “Dell sucks” into a search engine, you will get back more than 30,000 results. One man tapped a deep vein of consumer frustration — frustration that in the internet age can rise, like a geyser, to the surface. As Jarvis puts it, “If you go online and type in your search engine ‘[any brand] sucks,’ you will find the real Consumer Reports.” Yet for a long time, Dell ignored the controversy, a lapse that cost the company mightily in public image and most likely on the bottom line. Correlation isn’t causation, but it’s worth noting that 17 months after Jarvis’ post, the company lost its world leadership in computer sales to HP.
Breeding ground of rage
Jeff Jarvis, of course, no more invented online bitching than I did. From its earliest days, the internet has been a breeding ground for the culture of complaint. Technorati, the blog search engine, claims to scan 109 million blogs. On Oct. 27, it tracked 1,232,853 posts using the word “sucks.” On Blogdigger: 234,448. On BlogPulse: 641,682. And on Google Blog Search: 3,264,834.
That is a lot of sucking.
Line of site: Within a week, 200 people had left comments here.
Among the items of suckitude: Bill O’Reilly, PayPal, school, skateboarding, milk, “Survivor,” cancer, Facebook, everybody, Garfield (no relation) and — hilariously enough — the Morphy Richards pod bagless compact vacuum cleaner.
That’s from about 50 of the first few entries. I can’t speak for most of the other 3,264,784, because very quickly all that whining gets a little tedious. One blogger, demonstrating perhaps the world’s highest threshold of satisfaction, found fault with orgasm. That is a person whom Bill O’Reilly, PayPal and Facebook might find difficult to please.
Obviously, whiners are a category of consumer that has always existed. There have always been chronic malcontents out there, in addition to the loudly, legitimately aggrieved. Till recently, however, their audience has been limited to the offending party and a few unfortunate intimates. Now, thanks to the internet, their audience is potentially everyone. Therefore, nobody anymore need depend on critical judgments from astonishingly perspicacious elites such as myself. Opinions are like parathyroid glands: Everybody has one. About politics, about sports, about mouthwash …
Bad taste in mouth
“Listerine was chugging along nicely from its introduction as the first over-the-counter mouthwash in 1914, killing germs and tasting like shit until 1992,” blogged a fellow named Stegmann. “This is when Cool Mint Listerine was introduced, probably to combat that sickly sweet but non-antiseptic upstart Scope. The latest variety of Listerine is Vanilla Mint. It’s advertised as being ‘less intense.’ Does it taste good? Sure, I’m drinking a glass of it right now, poured generously over ice. Yum. Listen … I don’t want my Listerine to be delicious. I want it to taste horrible and kill germs, just like it did 100 years ago. What sissies we’ve all become.”
God bless Mr. Stegmann, and duly noted. We’ll mark him down as against Vanilla Mint Listerine. What makes his post remarkable and revolutionary, though, isn’t that he thinks what he thinks. It’s that he took the trouble to inform the world at large, and that at least one member of the world at large took the trouble to listen. Multiply that times a billion, and you grasp the Listenomics world. The following is excerpted from a letter sent to the British cable company NTL taking issue — as it happens — with precisely what infuriated me about Comcast. It is what diplomats call “a frank exchange of ideas,” so I warn you on language grounds. But it’s a classic that eventually became an internet viral:
I have been an NTL customer since 9 July 2001, when I signed up for your three-in-one deal for cable TV, cable modem and telephone. During this three-month period I have encountered inadequacy of service which I had not previously considered possible, as well as ignorance and stupidity of monolithic proportion. …
My initial installation was canceled without warning, resulting in my spending an entire Saturday sitting on my fat arse waiting for your technician to arrive. When he did not arrive, I spent a further 57 minutes listening to your infuriating hold music and the even more annoying Scottish robot woman telling me to look at your helpful website. … HOW? I alleviated the boredom by playing with my testicles for a few minutes — an activity at which you are no doubt both familiar and highly adept.
The rescheduled installation then took place some two weeks later, although the technician did forget to bring a number of vital tools — such as a drill bit, and his cerebrum …
I thought BT were shit, that they had attained the holy piss-pot of godawful customer relations, that no one, anywhere, ever, could be more disinterested, less helpful or more obstructive to delivering service to their customers. … You are sputum-filled pieces of distended rectum incompetents of the highest order …
Have a nice day — may it be the last in you miserable short life, you irritatingly incompetent and infuriatingly unhelpful bunch of [this expletive definitely deleted].
John may or may not have been driven insane by his cable company, but he was decidedly an angry loner, one who just happened to find a larger audience. Others are a lot more organized. Having reckoned that consumer appetite for information and the impulse to venture opinions are both bottomless wells, a number of businesses have undertaken to host the give and take. Amazon and eBay both solicit user ratings of books and products but also of the sellers who trade on their sites. Angie’s List solicits ratings of local plumbers, roofers, and other contractors and home services and charges members a monthly fee for access. Yelp and Citysearch are advertising-supported sites for rating restaurants, stores, nightlife and local media community by community. Epinions does the same on a national level, mainly for national brands.
These mechanisms are so much part of the landscape that they’ve become a target for parody. In 2006, The New York Times discovered that hundreds of people had posted Amazon customer reviews of a gallon jug of whole milk. Among the comments sifted out by the Times: “I give this Tuscan milk four stars simply because I found the consistency a little too ‘milk-like’ for my tastes.”
Snark for good
OK, granted, the criticism culture does sometimes verge on the absurd, but it can also yield some remarkable stories. After all, what is drama but conflict? The confrontation of Big Powerful Forces by righteous Everyman can be quite riveting, quite satisfying and sometimes even quite funny. This is the premise behind the Consumerist, a gossipy, ad-supported site in the Gawker blog empire, founded in 2005 as a forum for exposing substandard goods and services in the Gawker tradition of persistence and snark. “Basically,” says Editor Ben Popken, “to inform, empower and entertain consumers.”
This is where a fellow named Vincent Ferrari became a national icon by doing nothing more than trying to cancel his AOL account — and recording the phone conversation. The Consumerist posted the audio of the AOL employee working his way down the customer-retention flowchart to the point of hilarious obstructionism. An excerpt:
AOL: Is there a problem with the software itself?
Vincent: No. I just don’t use it. I don’t need it. I don’t want it. I don’t need it anymore.
AOL: So when you use the computer, is that for business or … ?
Vincent: Dude, what difference does it make? I don’t want the AOL account anymore. Cancel it.
AOL: Last month was 545 hours of usage.
Vincent: I don’t know how I can make this any clearer, so I’m just going to say it one more time: Cancel the account.
AOL: What’sa matter, man? I’m just trying to help you here.
Vincent: You’re not helping me. I’m calling to cancel my account. Helping me would be canceling the account.
AOL: No. It wouldn’t actually.
Vincent: Cancel the account. Cancel the account. CAN-CEL THE AC-COUNT.
And so on. As a result of the Ferrari tape, AOL changed its retention procedures to make it easier for customers to cancel. It also fired the employee, loyal and dedicated though he was. That’s what happens when consumerism becomes a spectator sport.
The Consumerist mounted another mini-crusade against Wal-Mart, when it discovered that the world’s largest retailer was selling T-shirts emblazoned with the skull-and-crossbones insignia of the Nazi 3rd SS Division, the so-called Totenkopf division dedicated mainly to guarding concentration camps. The story surfaced on another blog, but the Consumerist flogged it for all it was worth — even after Wal-Mart promised to pull the merchandise. Because, as it turned out, people kept finding the T-shirts at Wal-Mart long afterward.
Teed off: Consumerist crusaded against Wal-Mart over shirts with a Nazi insignia.
“We have infinite pixels to spend,” Ben Popken says, “so we were able to follow it — day five, day 27, day 97 of the Nazi-recall watch. We can follow it along to doomsday. It levels the playing field. … The determinant of who gets heard is not who has the most media dollars but who has the most interesting thing to say.”
One more player in the burgeoning e-grievance industry is Complaints.com, which has a smaller audience than the Consumerist but a bolder promise: to explicitly shame the company you don’t like. The site boasts of employing the Jeff Jarvis strategy of search-engine optimization. As its home page proclaims, “Often, a single complaint posted to Complaints.com about a business appears higher in the search-result rankings than the home page of the business that is the subject of the complaint.”
Funny. That was just my plan for Comcast.
More to the story
Once again, though, AdAge.com/garfield — aka the Bobosphere — is no BuzzMachine. My daily page views were in the dozens or the hundreds but by no means the thousands — until I commenced a holy war against my cable company. That’s when things started jumping. So I kept plugging away at Comcast Must Die: Parts 2, 3, etc. This is from my third post, from Sept. 14, headlined “The Fix Is In,” about a company spokeswoman’s claim of being appalled by my experience, considering Comcast’s dedication to providing the best service to all of its customers:
Not too bad. She didn’t actually lie till the last clause of the last sentence. As the comment traffic has made abundantly clear, Qualmcast is not working hard to ensure that its customers are receiving the best possible service. It is working hard to reduce costs to be competitive with the other telecoms, who also treat customers shabbily, in order to compete with Qualmcast.
But the other stuff was true. They have taken actions to correct my problems, which may be lucky for me, but in no way pacifying. On the contrary, as a jihadist bent on destroying their corrupt system, I am angrier and more zealous than ever. Customer service doesn’t mean kissing the ass of VIPs and putting everybody else in the hold queue till Groundhog Day. It means treating all your customers with dignity and respect, and investing all necessary resources to see that problems get solved immediately — for everyone. Which, if institutionalized in company culture, would eventually cease to be an expense and instead be a priceless differentiator in a commodity category.
Comcast had indeed put the full-court press on my particular problem. Shortly after that item was posted, there were five Comcast vans parked by the cable hub nearest my house for something like 18 hours. (And now my phone-cable-broadband service is just exquisite, thank you very much.) But, as you see, that just made me madder — implying that my jihad was just an extortion attempt to get my phones attended to. It was no such thing. Comcast Must Die was an extortion attempt to get everybody’s phones attended to.
Two weeks later …
Things were moving along splendidly, with Comcast Must Die getting the attention of bloggers and bloggees alike and comment traffic in the Bobosphere picking up apace. But then came two incredible strokes of good fortune, pretty much back-to-back. You’ll recall that on day one, somebody suggested reserving the domain name comcastmustdie.com. By day four, somebody had done just that. His name is Bart Wilson. He is founder of a company called Voyager International in Santa Fe, N.M., and he was fed up with Comcast too. Then it was but for me to find someone to actually create the site and a dedicated blog linked to it. Soon they materialized too, and two weeks into my jihad, Comcast Must Die went live with the following manifesto:
Actually, I have no death wish for Comcast or any other gigantic, blundering, greedy, arrogant corporate monstrosity. What I do have is the earnest desire for such companies to change their ways. This site offers an opportunity — for you to vent your grievances (civilly, please) and for Comcast to pay close attention.
I advise you to include your customer number in your post; this will give Comcast the chance to contact you and work on your problem. If it does so, I encourage you to post an update, giving credit where credit is due. …
Congratulations. You are no longer just an angry, mistreated customer. Nor, I hope, are you just part of an e-mob. But you are a revolutionary, wresting control from the oligarchs, and claiming it for the consumer. Your power is enormous. Use it wisely.
In the first 24 hours, there were 70 comments. Within a week, there were 200 — not site visits, not page views. Comments. People taking the trouble to move from mouse to keyboard and leave their thoughts — most of them, predictably, excoriating Comcast. Some even came from Comcast employees, as miserable at their workplace as we customers were on the other end of the cable. A few other Comcasters defended their company, in some cases heaping ridicule on stupid and/or hostile customers. Comcast PR executives even posted a few official comments, declaring themselves sensitive to consumer complaints and heavily invested in making their already dedicated efforts more robust still.
Those comments were met with some skepticism, including many famous-name vulgarities.
Enter the Hammer
But then came lucky break No. 2, a news event so delicious and unexpected that when I heard about it I momentarily suspended my air of preternatural sang-froid and cackled maniacally while dancing an improvised jig. I refer, of course, to the criminal behavior of one Mona Shaw. On Aug. 17, having been subjected to a typically outrageous chain of Comcast abuse and neglect over four days, Ms. Shaw sat at a bench outside a suburban Virginia customer-service center, where she’d been sent to wait to speak to a manager. After two hours in the baking sun, she was informed, sorry, the manager had left for weekend. This somehow got under her skin.
Hammer time: Mona Shaw was so frustrated by her experience she took up arms against two phones and a computer at a Comcast office.
Photo Credit: Anan Pimsler
“I think they got so bloody big,” she told me afterward, “they thought they were completely immune to everyone, they could do anything they damn well please.”
The indignity, heaped upon the previous week’s worth of indignities, rankled her all evening and all day Saturday and Sunday. On Aug. 20, she went back to the service center with her husband and a means of avoiding another tedious wait: a claw hammer.
This she used to pulverize a computer and two telephones, at which point she wryly remarked, “Have I got your attention now?” She had, indeed. But she knew that already. This was a premeditated attack committed not for a hatred of consumer electronics but for the righteousness of indignation, on the theory, as she put it, “If I can’t have a phone, OK, let’s go after yours.” The police had a slightly different legal theory and immediately arrested her — although almost as quickly the handcuffs were removed so she could be attended to by ambulance personnel. Ms. Shaw has a heart condition, and her blood pressure following the incident spiked out of control.
No wonder: She’s 75.
Mona thus became the Barbara Fritchie of cable rage. To paraphrase John Greenleaf Whittier: “Bust if you must this old gray head, but fix my freakin’ phone,” she said.
Riding the wave
Next thing you know, she was featured in The Washington Post, on “Good Morning America” and all over the media all over the world. People sent her money to pay her fine. (She donated the cash to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.) She received, via parcel post, three hammers. And wherever Mona Shaw was reported on, so was Comcast Must Die. At this writing, there are north of 1,000 comments on the site, including plenty an infuriating tale of woe, quite a few employee mea culpas, some union organizing and some corporate-PR boilerplate about how hard the company is working on behalf of all 25 million of its customers, blah, blah, blah.
But the most satisfying of the traffic to Comcast Must Die was from Comcast itself. The company was reading every single entry and, as I’d proposed, following up on every one it could. For example:
Update on my Oct. 12 posting at 9:49 a.m. … This site is fantastic. Quickly after making my post, I received three phone calls from Comcast: (1) a fellow named Mark called from corporate, left his number and told me I would be contacted by someone from my local office; (2) a call from Gwen, who was at the local office letting me know who specifically would be handling my case; and finally (3) Rebecca, who was handling my case. … I was able to connect with Rebecca today who had gone through my bill, corrected all of the charges and let me know my new monthly balance.”
Yes, as per my premise, the blog was doing for Comcast what Comcast itself should have been doing all along. Could it be that the soulless juggernaut was taking its first baby steps toward redemption? Others have. Consider the suddenly reflective General Motors, for decades the quintessence of corporate arrogance. Its vice chairman, Bob Lutz, hosts sprinkled with comments from those who despise GM products and say so — even accusing the company of a worldwide conspiracy to suppress electric-car technology:
GM’s “Volt” … is the traditional auto industry’s latest attempt to misinform the public about the viability of EVs (electric vehicles) and PHEVs. Most corporate media outlets covered the story and repeated GM’s propaganda that the battery technology is still not ready and that it will be very expensive. All the media outlets also specifically cited the Volt’s limited 40-mile electric-only range. This is also GM’s attempt to implant in the public mind the idea that EVs and PHEVs only have a 40-mile range. The truth is that the extremely reliable heavy-duty NiMH battery technology … is 10 years old and was bought by GM and then sold to Chevron, who is now sequestering the battery and refuses to sell it to small start-up EV manufactures …
Why expose yourself to such flak? Because it’s being fired up all around you anyway. Lutz thinks it’s better to have the conversation in your own airspace. Better to harvest valuable insights about your products and brands. Better to be able to influence perceptions than to be a helpless bystander. Yes, sometimes, miraculously, the scales fall off of corporate eyes.
For instance, if you were to ask Jeff Jarvis today, he would tell you that, no matter what you might have read online, Dell doesn’t suck. In fact, he told his readers two years after the episode, his erstwhile nemesis has catapulted “from worst to first.”
It has achieved this with a multipronged Web 2.0 assault on the status quo. It began with a corporate blog, Direct2Dell, which invited all comers to weigh in on all matters — including suckitude. This came in handy when Dell laptop batteries started to spontaneously combust like a Spinal Tap drummer. Here the company also learned, in bloodcurdling detail, just how inefficient its customer-service infrastructure was. By focusing on (apparent) cost, managers had outsourced call centers too far and wide and empowered too few employees to divert from their scripts to actually solve customer problems. The actual cost of the system revealed itself after Jarvis lost his temper and Dell lost market share — and market value. Once again granting that no correlations can be proved, in the year that followed, Dell’s share price was carved in half. While it’s possible to ignore your Google results, it is impossible to ignore Wall Street.
The tiger’s new stripes all culminated in Dell IdeaStorm, an online repository for customer suggestions and interactions about all things computing. It is part complaint box, part suggestion box, part social network, and it has transformed the culture of the company from blind cost cutting to dialogue. Of course, it’s impossible to really know anybody’s motivations, but the once-recalcitrant corporate colossus sounds for all the world like a True Believer. As Chief Marketing Officer Mark Jarvis (no relation) puts it, things have changed. “I would say radically. The big revelation from us was that customers did want to interact with us. It’s changed our support and our services organization. It changed our product-development organization. It’s absolutely changed marketing in the company. … Traditional marketing no longer works. The most important marketing vehicle right now is the consumer. Things have pretty much gone bottom up at Dell.”
Open ears … finally
And Jeff himself feels quite certain this is the real deal: “Note that the company is following suggestions that customers make. At the behest of the geekier geeks among them, Dell is now selling Linux computers and is reducing the bloatware that constipates new machines. Michael Dell acknowledged that the customers’ suggestions may not be economically rewarding, but he can’t know without trying. Dell even talks about collaborating with his customers.”
On Nov. 8, I got a post on Comcast Must Die: “I work for Comcast. Sorry, Bob, you are pretty much off the radar now.” That might be true. After an initial burst of activity, comment traffic had decidedly slowed. Perhaps Comcast believed that the novelty had worn off, but there are things Comcast doesn’t know.
One is that online insurrection isn’t a novelty; it is already a fact of business life. Secondly, I am by no means finished. As this piece goes to press, I am deep into planning for a national podcast event I hope will hold the corporate feet to the fire of mounting consumer rage. And finally, as I observed 5,000 words ago, I’m pretty easily pissed off but not so easily discouraged.
For instance, this is not my first media crusade. Long ago, in the first Clinton term, I tried to take my kids bowling one Saturday only to find every local lane filled up with league play. This rankled me, because I knew there was a perfectly good bowling alley sitting absolutely idle just 20 miles from my house in suburban Washington, D.C. It was then that I decided I would take my kids there.
Just a lane
That was sort of a quixotic tilt too, given that the alley in question was at the White House for the exclusive use of the first family and their friends. And I didn’t know the Clintons — or, at least, they didn’t know me. So I set out calling on friends, acquaintances, acquaintances of acquaintances and anybody I could think of in or around the corridors of power — from my congresswoman to James Carville to the head of the American Bowling Congress to Ralph Nader — to wrangle an invite. This was done for NPR’s “All Things Considered” as a sort of parable of political influence in Washington. In fact, it was essentially the mirror image of Comcast Must Die, which is about gaining influence not by being politically connected but simply by being digitally connected, about having lots and lots and lots of friends in low places.
But there’s something you should know. The bowling crusade was meant to last an entire summer, but the family and I got inside the bowling alley within two weeks. It was fun. I think I wore Nixon’s shoes.
Today, if I were in Comcast’s shoes, I’d be readjusting my radar.