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Art by Clark Miller.
Art by Clark Miller.

TikTok’s Last Stand: Can an Army of Lobbyists Quell a Washington Uprising?

The Chinese-owned company has been taking a beating in the Capitol. So it’s turned to some trusted hands to lead it through the swamp.

Art by Clark Miller.
Jan. 27, 2023 9:00 AM PST

There’s perhaps no one in Washington who distrusts TikTok quite as much as Brendan Carr.

Carr, a 44-year-old Donald Trump appointee to the Federal Communications Commission, has spent much of the last year going around cable news and elsewhere calling for the hugely popular short-video app to be restricted, if not banned, over its ties to Chinese parent company, ByteDance. TikTok is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Carr has said—a “sophisticated surveillance tool” collecting private data on 100 million American users, and a company “ultimately beholden” to the Chinese Communist Party.

This summer, Carr asked TikTok for a meeting with its CEO, Singapore-based Shou Zi Chew, to hash out his concerns. The company instead offered Michael Beckerman, its Washington-based head of public policy in the Americas. Carr declined, leaving it for his staff to sit down with Beckerman’s underlings instead.

And so on a rainy Monday afternoon in late August, TikTok sent along two of its Washington lobbyists for a tête-à-tête with Carr’s team: longtime Google veteran David Lieber and Freddy Barnes, a former aide to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. But when the TikTok team turned up in a 10th-floor conference room in the FCC’s gleaming headquarters in Washington’s NoMa neighborhood, Carr said he couldn’t help himself: “The idea that TikTok is in my office, meeting with my staff, and I’m going to somehow sit outside?” Carr told me. “No, I can’t resist.”

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