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The technology world is atwitter over Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional appearance Tuesday—for good reason. The young media mogul has much to answer for. And despite a history of anodyne public comments—his chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and others have coached him well—he is more than up to the task. I predict he’ll bring to Capitol Hill a potent mix of practiced humility, tangible peace offerings, and, if you listen carefully, wicked-fast wit. In other words, the Facebook CEO isn’t likely to appease professionally (if appropriately) outraged legislators. But he’s unlikely to make matters worse.
Facebook’s enemies, and anyone with a sense for schadenfreude, will hope for a meltdown like Zuckerberg’s 2010 conference interview with a couple of harsher-than-expected journalists. That’s wishful thinking. On Tuesday Zuckerberg will be well briefed and ready with clever, well-rehearsed responses to faux attack-dog questions from members of Congress.
The lawmakers are experienced in the theater of showboating. But they won’t be able to match Zuckerberg’s raw clock speed. I’ll never forget the time I brought then Fortune Managing Editor Andy Serwer to meet Zuckerberg at Facebook’s offices in Palo Alto. At the time, Fortune was working on a story about the murky backgrounds of some of the backers of Facebook’s early investors. We asked him about this, and I noted that while I wasn’t writing the article I was concerned about the rough treatment of journalists allegedly associated with these financiers. Without batting an eye, Zuckerberg replied: “I’m glad you’re not writing the article.”
Zuckerberg doesn’t always put the right foot forward, but he always knows where he’s going. The first time I interviewed him, for an article in 2005, he handed me a business card that read, “I’m ceo … bitch.” (He later claimed the cards were a joke, and he quickly stopped using them.) In the same interview he told me he thought that even though he could sell Facebook for a lot of money it’d be worth far more some day.
Then he was CEO of a small startup. Today he runs one of the most important media companies in the world. (It is important semantically and legally that legislators and the rest of us stop referring to Facebook (fb) as a “social network,” whatever that is; it is a media company.) All eyes are on Zuckerberg.