SALT LAKE CITY — It's "purely coincidental" that Sen. Orrin Hatch's call for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google comes after complaints by President Donald Trump that the search engine is "rigged" against conservatives.
The Utah Republican wrote a letter to the FTC Thursday detailing his "concern about recent reports on Google's search and digital advertising practices," including a May segment on "60 Minutes" about allegations of anticompetitive conduct.
Earlier this week, the president tweeted a reference to an analysis by a conservative website suggesting 96 percent of the stories returned by a Google search for Trump news were from left-leaning media sources.
"In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal?" the president said, adding the issue "will be addressed."
But Hatch spokesman Matt Whitlock said the senator's letter seeking to reopen an investigation into Google's search practices concluded in 2013 had nothing to do with the president's tweets.
"Sen. Hatch's letter follows a number of speeches he's given on antitrust issues in the tech sector over the last year, and is not related to President Trump's tweets about Google," Whitlock said.
"This letter was in the works before President Trump raised the issue," he said. "The timing was purely coincidental."
The claim made by PJ Media on Aug. 25 was rated false by the nonprofit PolitiFact, citing the chart used to determine the leanings of media outlets labeling the Associated Press, major broadcast networks and other mainstream media as left.
Because of the large amounts of content coming from those outlets, the analysis "guarantees that an enormous percentage of Trump news coverage would fall into what the chart defines as 'left,'" PolitiFact concludes, noting it, too, was rated "left."
The letter from Hatch, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee, refers to a January 2016 request from Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and his Washington, D.C., counterpart, to look into Google.
It cites unnamed reports that "have highlighted the fact that Google has, on occasion, decided to remove from its platforms legal business that the company apparently does not agree with."
Hatch calls questions raised about Google's data collection and privacy practices "disquieting" and ends by requesting that the "FTC consider the competitive effects of Google's conduct in search and digital advertising."