Google Lounge At RNC Makes For An Odd Coupling
I'm writing this from the media center sponsored by Google. The entire place looks like a cross between an Ikea and Willy Wonka candy room. Bright colors, free wifi, free espresso, lattes, iced coffee, and more. The conservatives with whom I've spoken don't know how to feel about using the wifi and filing a story while sipping a latte foamed with a design on top. They feel uneasy because, as Jerome Hudson says, "Google is evil."
Timothy Carney says the same set-up will also be at the DNC next week:
Google had the same setup in Des Moines before the Iowa Caucuses, and they’ll have the same in Charlotte at the DNC next week.
That’s when you start to realize one aspect of what Google is doing here. They want to give political journalists a generally positive impression of Google. This matters in part because Google is a very political company. Google was number three among companies from which Obama raised money in 2008. The company lobbies hard for net neutrality regulations which would protect its profit model, and they are engaged in a politicized litigation rumble with Microsoft.
Are we okay with this? What if it were the Exxon Hangout?
That said, these conventions are full of free stuff for journos paid for by politically active companies.
The company is quite the supportive Obama donor:
Obama's ties to the tech community go back to his first presidential campaign, when then Google CEO Eric Schmidt (now executive chairman) campaigned for him, and served as an adviser. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer also backed Obama four years ago.
After the election, several Googlers left the company to join the Obama administration, Schmidt became a member of the Transition Economic Advisory Board and he and Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft, were named to the president's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
The policies that Google supports, and the politicians to whom they donate, are often antithetical to the belief of an open and unencumbered Internet:
Some of you may be interested to note where some of these contribution recipients stand on technology and security issues.
As you may remember, the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) was a bill positioned as as an anti-piracy tool yet its implementation would have given entertainment businesses extraordinary power to create an internet blacklist - and the bill became known as one of the biggest threats to free speech in recent history.
It's commonplace for companies, even those who are politically active, to have such a presence at conventions and conferences; it's all about marketing. Some may even question whether it's a form of propaganda: the attempt to show political journalists how friendly and helpful they are in an effort to plant that seed in the mind of a writer. Others may say that the company is just getting into a good positon leading towards an uncertain outcome this fall. Google does have a lot on the line, millions spent on lobbying for the Obama agenda. Republicans haven't exactly viewed them without suspicion:
Saddled with the perception that it is a darling of the Obama administration, Google may have it tough with Republicans. The company whose chief executive campaigned for President Obama stands to become a target of investigations by multiple committees. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who has promised to be an aggressive watchdog as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has led congressional Republicans in questioning whether Google has inappropriate ties to the Obama administration. Issa wrote to the White House in April to ask whether a technology official and former Google employee had unethical contact with the company.
Watchdogs have also questioned Google’s ties to Democrats. The pro-free-market group National Legal and Policy Center, for example, has labeled the company the Halliburton of the Obama years. Halliburton was closely associated with the administration of President George W. Bush.
Will their presence here cause a political writer to question the veracity of the piece they're composing when the recall the experience they had with Google at the RNC? The lattes, the swag? Or will the Google experience be lost in the noise and debris of other marketing attempts at the bottom of a backpack or convention swag bag? Or maybe Google is simply hedging its bets?
Google downplayed the impact of the new GOP-led House by saying it has friends in both parties. “Technology isn’t a partisan issue,” said spokeswoman Mistique Cano. “We’ve believed for a long time that it’s important to build relationships on both sides of the aisle, and that’s something we’ve done for years.”