Google Rebuts Reports of Cozy Relationship With White House

By Jaikumar Vijayan  |  Posted 2015-03-30 Print this article Print

There is nothing to substantiate that the White House influenced the FTC to let Google off the hook two years ago, the company says in scathing blog.

Google has come out swinging against The Wall Street Journal over recent articles suggesting the company had a cozy relationship with the White House that helped it avoid a major Federal Trade Commission (FTC) antitrust lawsuit two years ago.

In a blog post, Google Senior Vice President of Communications and Policy Rachel Whetstone used a GIF of a laughing baby to mock Journal owner Rupert Murdoch and his publication's recent characterization of Google.

Last year, the blog noted, Robert Thomson, the CEO of News Corp, had accused Google of creating "a less informed, more vexatious level of dialog in our society," Whetstone pointed out. "Given the tone of some of your publications, that made quite a few people chuckle," she said.

The Journal recently said it obtained an internal document from the FTC that showed that several staffers at the Commission had wanted to sue Google over antitrust violations in 2012. Although the FTC's commissioners in January 2013 unanimously decided to drop a 19-month investigation of the company after Google voluntarily agreed to change some of its business practices, in reality several FTC staffers had actually wanted to sue the company, the paper said.

The report, and a subsequent story from the Journal, described how Google staffers and executives had visited the White House more times than any other technology company. It noted how Google Chairman Eric Schmidt had met with a senior adviser to President Barack Obama in the White House even as the FTC was in settlement talks with the company.

Since Obama took office, Google employees have visited the White House about 230 times, or roughly once every single week, the paper said. "Google's access to high-ranking Obama administration officials during a critical phase of the antitrust probe is one sign of the Internet giant's reach in Washington," the paper said.

"Google's knack for getting in the room with important government officials is gaining new relevance as scrutiny grows over how the company avoided being hit by the FTC with a potentially damaging antitrust lawsuit," it had noted.

Whetstone described the Journal's interpretation of Google's relationships with the White House as inaccurate and misleading.

The meetings that Google officials had with the White House were not to discuss antitrust matters but were in fact related to issues such as patent reforms; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education; autonomous cards; and cyber-security, according to Whetstone. Of the 230 meetings mentioned in the Journal report, 33 were by people who were not employees of Google when they visited the White House, and five were by a Google engineer voluntarily helping fix problems with, she added.

Several of the meetings were advertising industry briefings attended by others as well, including Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL, and over a dozen meetings were by YouTube staff covering YouTube interviews with the president, Whetstone said.

And contrary to the Journal's claims about Google being the technology company that visited the White House the most, in reality that distinction belongs to Microsoft, which had around 270 meetings with the White House, she said.

The Journal suggests "that a series of disparate and unrelated meetings involving FTC officials and executive branch officials or Google representatives somehow affected the Commission's decision to close the search investigation in early 2013," Whetstone said. "Not a single fact is offered to substantiate this misleading narrative." 


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