More than a few people thought FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was acting suspiciously ahead of the failed Sinclair-Tribune merger. The regulator's Office of the Inspector General, however, would beg to differ. The watchdog has published a report determining that Pai hadn't shown "favoritism" or other forms of shady dealing in his decisions around the abandoned takeover. Pai's choices, such as relaxing media ownership limitations, were "consistent" with his public statements, according to the report. Moreover, Pai's punishments for Sinclair (including a $13.3 million fine and the decision to kill the merger) suggested to the Inspector General that the Chairman was being fair.
You can imagine how various sides have responded to the findings. Pai, to no one's surprise, claimed that the allegations of bias toward a company were "absurd" and insisted that Democrats made "entirely baseless" accusations. The Democrats' Ranking Member Frank Pallone, meanwhile, shot back by noting that it required a full-fledged inquiry to get answers, and that this didn't include Pai's personal communications (beyond the Inspector General's reach) or talks with the White House (which are coming in an additional evidence search). "It should not take an IG investigation to get answers to basic questions regarding independence and integrity," Pallone said.
The determination may avoid legal trouble for Pai, but it likely won't appease critics. It still remains true that Pai met with Sinclair's chairman mere days before being named to the FCC's top spot, and was asked to lighten restrictions on media consolidations. His claim that he hasn't "favored any one company" doesn't hold much water given his close connection to Verizon, for that matter. And while his actions were consistent with his existing deregulatory stance, that by itself isn't definitive proof he was above board -- just that he didn't contradict himself.