Barrett, Andrew C. 1942(?)—
Andrew C. Barrett 1942(?)—
Attorney, former federal official
Andrew C. Barrett arrived in Washington, DC in 1989 determined to be much more than a mere government bureaucrat. Appointed to the Federal Communications Commission in 1989—and confirmed for a full five-year term in 1990—Barrett proved to be an outspoken and unpredictable force on the FCC. Barrett faced daunting tasks such as policing broadcast indecency, divvying up the financial rights to television re-runs, and charting the path of the “Information Superhighway.” To these tasks he added the goals of bringing more minorities and women into television and radio station ownership, and pressing the Clinton administration to make the Internet and other computer-based information systems available to minorities and the poor. His strong opinions on such matters as foul language and violence on the airwaves assured Barrett a high profile during his tenure with the FCC—and his political clout with fellow Republicans remains high even though he has returned to the private sector.
Barrett was born in Rome, Georgia but was raised in the Hyde Park section of Chicago, where his father owned a bar. Barrett grew up Catholic, and his neighborhood was racially mixed. As a youngster he considered going into the priesthood until he “found out there were girls in the world,” as stated by Barrett in an Ebony profile.
As he came of age in Chicago, Barrett drew benefit from the liberal social programs advanced by then-president Lyndon B. Johnson. “If it weren’t for the Great Society programs, I couldn’t have gotten a masters (from Loyola University of Chicago) and a law degree (from De Paul University),” he told the Chicago Tribune many years later. His education and early work experience influenced Barrett’s political views, however. He grew disenchanted with the Democratic Party and what he saw as a welfare system that encouraged second-class citizenship for the poor. Therefore, he switched to the Republican Party in 1973.
Barrett began the 1970s working for nonprofit national organizations, including the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) and the Chicago Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In his spare time he turned his
At a Glance…
B ornea, 1942 in Rome, GA; son of a bar owner. Education: Roosevelt University, B.A.; Loyola University, M.A.; DePaul University, J.D.
Attorney. National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ), associate director, 1971–75; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), executive director of Chicago Branch, 1975–79; Illinois Law Enforcement Commission, Chicago, director of operations, 1979–80; Illinois Department of Commerce, Chicago, assistant director, 1980–89; Illinois Commerce Commission, commissioner, 1980–89; Federal Communications Commission, Washington, DC, commissioner, 1989–95; Edelman Public Relations, Washington, DC, associate, 1996—.
Addresses: Office —Edelman Public Relations Worldwide, 1420 K Street N.W., 10th floor, Washington, DC 20005.
legal acumen and organizing skills to the service of James Thompson, a Republican running for governor of Illinois. When Thompson won the governorship, he did not forget the help he received from Barrett. In 1980 Thompson named Barrett to the Illinois Commerce Commission. Barrett spent the next nine years as a commissioner with this state regulatory agency, becoming an expert on the telephone industry.
The ICC post was hardly a high-profile job, but Barrett nevertheless became known to a number of prominent Republicans, among them Senator Robert Dole of Kansas. In the summer of 1989, upon Dole’s recommendation, President George Bush named Barrett to a vacant position on the Federal Communications Commission, thrusting Barrett into “a potentially intoxicating spotlight,” to quote James Warren in the Chicago Tribune.
Barrett joined the FCC at a time when changes in technology and the abilities of the media were sparking a number of important regulatory and public policy questions. Expectations were that, as a newcomer to the commission, Barrett would make few if any original contributions—and that he would make his decisions at the behest of his Republican colleagues in the White House and the Senate. Barrett had other ideas. “I’m a black first; a Republican second or third,” he explained in the Chicago Tribune.
The FCC felt Barrett’s presence almost immediately. He took his seat in the fall of 1989, just as the commission was struggling to change the financial interest and syndication ( “fin-syn”) regulations pertaining to the financial control of television re-run rights. “When I came [to Washington],” Barrett told Ebony, “I think people thought I was just going to be a vote, so nobody ever asked me how I felt about ’fin-syn. ’ Since they didn’t ask me how I felt, I thought I’d devise my own plan and it ultimately won.”
Because “fin-syn” could have meant billions of dollars of revenue to the major television networks, Barrett found himself courted by lobbyists for the networks’ interests, including such prominent players as publisher Rupert Murdoch, CBS, Inc. chairman Laurence Tisch, and even his former colleague Jim Thompson. If anything, this big-time lobbying only made Barrett more determined to forge what he felt was a truly equitable conclusion to the “fin-syn” debate. His was the swing vote in favor of a proposal he helped to craft that gave the networks far less financial interest in re-runs than they felt they deserved. “I’m not from Washington,” Barrett later told the Chicago Tribune, “... I didn’t go there to be anyone’s vote, and I don’t want people to be able to read me.”
While with the FCC, Barrett also let his views be known on other media and technological issues. His concerns about indecency in broadcasting, for instance, were tempered by the opinion that government can hardly be expected to obliterate something that the general public seems to crave. Barrett explained in the Chicago Tribune that he found offensive language on the airwaves “deplorable . . . but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If there wasn’t a market out there for it, it wouldn’t exist.” Children were finding role models, he insisted, not on television but around them in their own communities—for better or worse. Nevertheless, he helped the FCC to level fines against performers and radio announcers whose broadcasts were deemed offensive and indecent.
As the third black commissioner in the history of the FCC, Barrett committed himself to finding new opportunities for minorities and women in the media and on the Information Superhighway. He voiced strong concerns that many poor people of all races would suffer in the long run because they “wouldn’t be able to afford the ticket price” to admit them to the computer-based information systems. He also pushed for greater minority and female ownership of American broadcast properties, helping to establish an auction process for wireless communications services.
Throughout his tenure with the FCC, Barrett maintained strong ties to the public and to his Chicago roots. A very private individual, he chose his Washington social activities with great care, preferring to make work-related headlines. Near the end of his term with the FCC, he spoke out most forcefully on the need for government to ensure that emerging technologies would be made available to the poor as well as the wealthy. In the Los Angeles Sentinel, he demanded that African Americans be included in the move towards cyberspace. “This technology will be the ticket for greater knowledge and access to new forms of entertainment,” Barrett said. “The haunting fact is that those unwilling or unable to join the electronic revolution will find themselves at an economic, educational, and cultural disadvantage.”
Barrett’s term with the FCC expired in 1995. He has since been employed at Edelman Public Relations Worldwide in Washington, DC.
Black Enterprise, February 1990, p. 32.
Chicago Tribune, April 12, 1992, p. 2; February 20, 1994, p. 3.
Ebony, October 1991, pp. 64–67; January 1995, p. 98D.
Forbes, March 4, 1991, pp. 140–41.
Jet, June 18, 1990, p. 38; November 7, 1994, pp. 24–25; April 15, 1996, p. 5.
Los Angeles Sentinel, May 24, 1995, p. C6 .
Washington Afro-American, February 19, 1994, p. Al .
Additional information supplied by the Federal Communications Commission, Washington, DC.
—Anne Janette Johnson
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