Nearly 30 years ago, a young Republican lawyer named Richard E. Wiley led the Federal Communications Commission as it approved a landmark regulation that restricted a company from owning both a newspaper and a broadcast station in the same city.
On Monday the F.C.C. is expected to repeal that rule in more than 100 cities as part of the most significant overhaul of media regulations in a generation. And it would come despite objections from an array of politically liberal and conservative critics who fear broad consolidation in the news and entertainment businesses.
But those objections were no match for big media, whose top lawyer and chief Washington strategist is none other than Mr. Wiley, now 68 years old, and by all accounts the most influential media and telecommunications lawyer in the country.
To critics who would accuse him of selling out the very public-interest safeguards he helped put in place as F.C.C. chairman during the Ford administration, Mr. Wiley says simply that his policy views are now different because the industry is different.
“The world has demonstrably changed since then,” he said in a recent interview at his law firm’s offices on K Street. “I think my earlier handiwork is outmoded. It was a good rule for 1975. We were concerned at the time that newspapers would dominate television, which people forget had only really been created 20 years or so earlier. It’s almost been 30 years later and many things are different.”
But his vantage point, as the managing partner of Wiley Rein & Fielding for the last 20 years, has changed as well. The firm has the most enviable list of clients in the field. It has supplied more lawyers to the important telecommunications posts in the Bush administration than any other firm, and it is perceived to be the best-connected law practice in the field