04/07/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Al Franken Pokes The Bear

Leading a wave of skepticism against the proposed merger of NBC Universal and Comcast is a senator with inside information about the National Broadcasting Company, Minnesota Democrat Al Franken. The former Saturday Night Live star criticized the merger in hearings of the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, raising concerns that sounded like a Brill's Content op-ed come to life: "When the same company that produces the programs runs the pipes, we have reason to be nervous."

Know what else should make one nervous? The knowledge that the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision would basically allow either NBC or Comcast to become some sort of corporate interests Voltron, capable of rising up and destroying Franken's political career with tens of millions of dollars and the used furniture from the set of the Jay Leno Show.

Still, Franken persisted:

I was at NBC in the 1990s, when Financial Interest and Syndication rules--more commonly known as Fin-Syn--were relaxed and then essentially eliminated. Until then, Fin-Syn rules had prevented networks from owning more than a very small portion of the programs they aired. This was to prevent an inherent conflict of interest.

At that time, NBC executives testified that gutting Fin-Syn would not lead the network to favor its own programming. To the contrary, the NBC President declared, "It is in our self-interest to do everything we can to promote a strong independent production community."

But by 1992, NBC was the single largest supplier of its own prime-time programming. Today, if an independent producer wants to get its show on a network's schedule, it's a routine practice for the network to demand at least part ownership of the show. This is completely contrary to what NBC and the other networks said they would do when they were trying to get Fin-Syn rescinded.

So while I commend NBCU and Comcast for making voluntary commitments as part of this merger, you'll have to excuse me if I don't just trust their promises.

Franken has been the Democrats' leading source of sack lately. At least according to the "five sources" who Halperin-Heilemanned up this story for Politico, conjuring up a scene in which Franken was giving it to David Axelrod for punting on health care reform.

All in all, if it were possible for anyone to have a bright political future, Al Franken would likely be one of them.

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