NBC Universal has pledged to report on the impact of Russia's draconian new anti-gay laws during its exclusive coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics, but its financial stake in maintaining a positive relationship with the International Olympics Commission (IOC) raises questions about the network's ability to be objective in its reporting.
NBC has faced increasing pressure to report on Russia's harsh anti-gay laws - including a measure that bans vaguely defined pro-gay "propaganda" - during its coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi this February. Despite assurances from the IOC, Russian officials have warned that the law will be enforced against Olympians and visitors who display or demonstrate support for LGBT equality during the games.
Mark Lazarus, chairman of the NBC Sports Group, has stated that NBC will "acknowledge" the law in its coverage if it affects the Olympic Games in any way, saying, "If it is still their law and it is impacting any part of the Olympic Games, we will make sure that we acknowledge it and recognize it."
But NBC's ability to objectively cover the Olympic controversy is potentially threatened by the network's own financial interests. As Time magazine reporter Sean Gregory noted, NBC paid the IOC more than $4 billion for television rights to the Sochi Olympics, as well as rights to the 2016, 2018, and 2020 Olympics. The hefty price tag demonstrates how valuable NBC considers its exclusive access to the Olympic Games to be, an agreement which is granted by the IOC directly.
NBC's close relationship with the IOC is likely to become problematic as the IOC begins to take its own precautions to crack down on pro-gay "propaganda."
NBC Sports has pledged to expose Russia's anti-gay "propaganda" law during its exclusive coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Since the law's passage on June 10, however, NBC's news programming has almost completely ignored the controversy surrounding the measure, raising concerns about their willingness to report on the law during the event next February.
It's no secret that Fox News doesn't live up to its "fair and balanced" slogan, especially when one considers its coverage of the LGBT community. In fact, much of its coverage is openly antagonistic and downright homophobic. On issue after issue of importance, the network, its hosts, anchors, contributors, and guests offer up lies, misinformation, and right-wing spin that only further stigmatizes the gay and lesbian community.
The worst examples of Fox News coverage on LGBT issues can be found after the jump.
A review of Fox News' employment practices however, reveals a network at odds with its own homophobic public image. The dichotomy reminds me a bit of the recently outed state legislator with the staunchly anti-gay voting record.
Republican California State Senator Roy Ashburn was arrested for driving under the influence after reportedly leaving a Sacramento gay bar with an unidentified male passenger. Several days after circumstances surrounding his arrest and personal life spread in the media, Ashburn announced that he was gay and that he would continue to vote against the LGBT community because that's what the constituents from his conservative district would want.
Perhaps Fox News really is taking a page from Ashburn. Just as the California legislator has quietly acknowledged the fact that he's a gay man, News Corp. (and by extension Fox News) has quietly been offering workplace protections and benefits to its gay and lesbian employees.
According to an examination of the Human Rights Campaign's (HRC) employer database, News Corp. (Fox News' parent company) has had a policy protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation since at least 2005 and has offered health care benefits to same-sex partners since at least 1999. Time Warner (CNN's parent company) and General Electric (NBC/MSNBC's parent company) offer not only these basic protections to gay and lesbian employees, they appear to go even further.
The HRC's Corporate Equality Index rates Time Warner and General Electric with 100 percent and 80 percent, respectively, while News Corp. has yet to complete the survey that HRC uses to establish its index. News Corp. would give us a better understanding of how it treats LGBT employees on a variety of other important issues by completing the survey, but the media company does deserve credit for at least offering some very basic protections and benefits for gay and lesbian employees.
Lack of a Corporate Equality Index rating notwithstanding, News Corp. has taken its support for LGBT employees a step further by sponsoring the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) which describes itself on its website as "an organization of journalists, media professionals, educators and students working from within the news industry to foster fair and accurate coverage of LGBT issues." In fact, the program from the organization's annual conference last fall in Montréal included an ad from News Corp. stating: "The networks of Fox News honor NLGJA for its commitment to fair and balanced reporting. From your friends at Fox News Channel, Fox Business, News Corporation."
Reached for comment over email, NLGJA managing director Michael Tune said, "We try to have as expansive a network as possible in order to reach into every newsroom to accomplish our mission. News Corp. is a major employer of journalists nationwide, and NLGJA has had a very open and supportive dialog with them over the years regarding fair and accurate coverage of the LGBT community."
Tune added, "NLGJA's Rapid Response Task Force was created to respond to coverage of the LGBT community that is not fair and accurate. When we reach out to a news provider, it is often with the help of our member employees or other contacts within a company." He continued, "Often the relationship we have built with a company through its support of NLGJA makes it easier to work together."
I sought out Fox News' Brian Lewis, executive vice president of corporate communications, and Irena Briganti, senior vice president of media relations, last week for comment on the conflict between the network's public posturing against LGBT equality and its support for LGBT employees, but I've not yet received a response.
Just as Sen. Ashburn plans to continue his history of voting against the LGBT community to appease the homophobic conservative district he serves, News Corp. (and by extension Fox News) shows no signs of pulling back on the homophobic red meat it has fed its public -- the conservative audience that drives its ratings.
That ultimately is what's truly sad about News Corp.'s relationship with its LGBT "friends." The media company gives its employees decent protections and benefits while making the lives of the very same employees more difficult in the long-run by broadcasting homophobia and misinformation that harden anti-LGBT views and slow the movement for full equality under the law.
As an avid viewer of several NBC prime-time programs -- 30 Rock and The Office among them -- I've grown accustomed to the "green" themed programming that pops up each year on the network and other NBC Universal outlets as well.
The Wall Street Journal's Amy Chozick has an interesting piece out this week looking at the "eco-friendly" programming:
In just one week on NBC, the detectives on "Law and Order" investigated a cash-for-clunkers scam, a nurse on "Mercy" organized a group bike ride, Al Gore made a guest appearance on "30 Rock," and "The Office" turned Dwight Schrute into a cape-wearing superhero obsessed with recycling.
Coincidence? Hardly. NBC Universal planted these eco-friendly elements into scripted television shows to influence viewers and help sell ads.
Since fall 2007, network executives have been asking producers of almost every prime-time and daytime show to incorporate a green storyline at least once a year. The effort now takes place for a week in April and November. Starting April 19 this year, 40 NBC Universal outlets will feature some 100 hours of green-themed programming, including an episode of the Bravo reality series "Millionaire Matchmaker" in which a 39-year-old tycoon with an eco-friendly clothing line goes into a rage after his blind date orders red meat.
While the network says it tries to incorporate green programming throughout the year, the special emphasis twice a year creates an "event" that provides opportunities to advertisers, an NBC spokeswoman says. For instance, a Wal-Mart ad focusing on locally grown produce ran this past November after an episode of the medical drama "Trauma" in which emergency medic Rabbit rescues a window washer dangling precariously from a building; medics are alerted to the situation by a man sitting in his hybrid vehicle.
Behavior placement gives marketers extra incentive to advertise at a time when digital video recorders equip viewers with an unprecedented ability to skip commercials, says Jason Kanefsky, a media buyer at Havas's MPG. "You're not forcing your way into a program in any shape or form," he says. "You're just nodding your head at a program." ABC, CBS and FOX have plenty of product placement but haven't taken the step into behavior placement, network spokesmen say.
Armed with its own data showing consumers are wiling to spend more if a brand seems eco-friendly, NBC in 2007 launched "Green Week," the programming component of a larger "Green is Universal" corporate campaign. That effort brought in an estimated $20 million in advertising revenue from 20 sponsors, according to industry estimates. Many new clients, including the nutrition bar Soy Joy, came on board, NBC says. In April 2008, the network added another week of green-themed programming, when network logos go green and on-air promos tout NBC's support for the environment. But there are no obvious cues to alert viewers to the green emphasis in programming.
Chozick's story got me thinking. Wouldn't it be great if the Wall Street Journal spent 1,500 words (the length of the entire aforementioned piece) on a story delving into News Corps' efforts to go green and how its Fox News Channel spends considerable air-time attacking the science behind climate change and anything even vaguely eco-friendly?
Since the Journal is owned by News Corp, we shouldn't hold our breath. But just in case some Journal reporters happen to be reading (hello there!) I offer the following primer from a column I wrote in February:
Leading the anti-science idiocy is a host of conservative Fox News figures.
Over on the network's right-wing morning show, Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson maintained her long-held passion for dismissing climate science, saying she wanted to talk about the "dichotomy" created by "big snowstorms" occurring while "the Obama administration [is] talking about creating a new federal office to study global warming." Co-host Steve Doocy added to the nonsense, claiming that it was "interesting, though, given the fact that the weather is so rotten right now, and people are going, 'How can there be global warming if it's snowing and it's fairly cold?' "
Interesting observation? Hardly. Idiocy worth ignoring? Absolutley.
Fox News' Sean Hannity dug in deep as well, adding to his extensive history of science denial. The conservative host found it absolutely hilarious that Commerce Secretary Gary Locke had "tunneled his way through two feet of snow in D.C." to announce the proposed creation of a new Climate Service office within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The very next day, Hannity was back at it, saying, "Global warming, where are you? We want you back" while discussing recent winter storms.
Ironically, Rupert Murdoch -- CEO of News Corp., Fox News' parent company -- stated in 2007 that News Corp. "can set an example" and "reach our audiences" when it comes to fighting climate change, promising to make all of News Corp.'s operations carbon neutral by this year.
Perhaps it's time for Murdoch to call an all-staff meeting and discuss just how they are reaching their respective audiences on this issue, which he has said "poses clear, catastrophic threats."
There is a whole lot more where that comes from -- 247 research items, video/audio clips, blog posts and columns here at Media Matters alone.