Award Winning Blog

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What Consultants Generally Do

You may have heard the rather lame joke about the definition of a consultant: someone who borrows your watch and tells you the time. Consultants sometimes have the liberty to tell clients what is not obvious, or what does not serve the clients’ interests—“tough love.” But in many instances consultants—including some of my academic sisters and brothers-- tell clients what they want to hear even if it’s neither obvious nor true. By way of full disclosure I serve as a consultant, but have the luxury of never having to have my name associated with the former type of “research.”

In researching updates for a loose leaf treatise on cable television, All About Cable (Law Journal Press) I came across one of those clear, “smoking gun” instances where a consultant tells the client what it wants to hear. In turn the client, an industry association, files the “research” with the FCC which then relies heavily on the work to justify a pre-ordained outcome, i.e., what the FCC wants to conclude. In 2004 the FCC wanted to say that ala carte access to cable television channels would cost consumers money.

Two years later the FCC—or at least Chairman Martin—wanted the opposite outcome. Why the change? Perhaps a heightened concern for accommodating families and pro-family advocates. Maybe a Chairman considering a run for elective office in a few years. With ala carte access cable television consumers can opt only for those channels that do not offend them. But the FCC had concluded that mandating such access would harm consumers.

The solution: discredit a consultant’s report, despite an extensive history of hook, line and sinker buying consultants’ vision of reality, because they jibe with the Commission’s objectives. In a relatively short period of time the FCC’s goals changed, so it had to discredit that pesky “research” that it had relied upon in a Report to Congress. Compare FCC, Report on the Packaging & Sale of Video Programming Servs. to the Pub. (2004), with FCC, Further Report on the Packaging & Sale of Video Programming Servs. to the Pub. (2006),

There are times when I think I am living in a dual world: my isolated world where I deal with facts, policies and the law on its face versus DC World where things are not as they appear to be.