Media Structures & Regulations

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  • NBC News Is Struggling To Report On Its Own Trump Problem

    NBC's Financial Relationship With The President-Elect Puts Its Reporters In An Impossible Situation

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN

    NBC and its parent company, Comcast/NBCUniversal, have put the network’s news division in an impossible situation by entering into a financial agreement with the next president of the United States. As NBC News reporters grapple with the announcement that President-elect Donald Trump will remain an executive producer on NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, many aren't discussing the intolerable conflicts of interest this business arrangement poses to NBC. In this deal, NBC will have a fiduciary relationship with the president, making it financially invested in Trump’s reputation -- a situation that threatens to compromise the news division’s political reporting. The arrangement is now providing a case study in how conflicts of interest affect the quality and the integrity of reporting.

    Variety reported on December 8 that Trump will stay on as an executive producer of Celebrity Apprentice. As Media Matters pointed out, because of the business relationship, NBC is now financially invested in Trump's reputation and will have an incentive to weigh aggressive reporting about Trump across its news platforms against what the network mighty lose in revenue if Trump's reputation is damaged. The arrangement implicates NBC News, CNBC, and MSNBC.

    NBC News’ reports on the announcement have generally presented the conflict as a possible problem for Trump, but not for NBC -- and that’s when the network reports on the deal at all. NBC’s flagship Sunday political show, Meet the Press, failed to address the story entirely on the December 11 edition. Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, who also anchors the weekday program Meet the Press Daily, said on December 8 that Trump being “connected to The Apprentice is not news to the American public.” NBC correspondents Kristen Welker and Peter Alexander both characterized the deal as a conflict for Trump, while downplaying NBC’s own conflict. Welker noted that there is “new scrutiny of the president-elect's decision to stay on as executive producer of The Apprentice,” referring to the deal as “Trump’s business entanglements,” and adding, “NBC Entertainment declined to comment, noting MGM owns and produces the show.” Joe Kernen, host of CNBC’s Squawk Box, told a critic, “Don’t bring it to your conflict thing again.” MSNBC’s Ari Melber argued that Trump remaining an executive producer isn’t a conflict, “it’s just … weird,” and made a point of saying that “NBC Entertainment is a separate division of our company” from NBC News.

    MSNBC reporters have also tried to compare Trump’s deal with NBC to Obama receiving royalties for his books. But, as The Associated Press explained, Obama’s “books’ publishers are not financially tied to news divisions.”

    By contrast, other media outlets have noted NBC’s numerous conflicts in this arrangement. On ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos asked incoming Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus: “The FCC regulates NBC corporate. Corporations could try to curry favor with the president by placing their products on the show, buying advertising. Isn't that an issue?” CNN’s Dylan Byers explained that the business relationship “presents a thorny situation for Comcast/NBCUniversal, which controls the [product integration] deals” that companies make with Celebrity Apprentice, which, according to Byers, often range from $5 million to $9 million. Trump personally profits from those deals, making NBC the middleman through which companies can “curry favor” with the president. And Fortune magazine noted that NBC was already criticized in October “for reportedly sitting on the Access Hollywood footage from 2005 that showed Trump boasting about committing sexual assault,” which the network reportedly withheld due to “fear of spurring yet another lawsuit from Trump.”

    Media and ethics experts have also pointed out the untenable situation NBC has created for itself. Marcy McGinnis, a former CBS News executive and journalism professor, called the arrangement “mind-boggling” and said it’s “a clear conflict of interest” to have a company “that has a news division …. covering the president of the United States” when he “has an interest in a show on that network.” Aly Colon, a journalism ethics expert, noted people’s desire to “believe in an independent news division not affected by business ties,” saying, “A lot of people find it difficult to believe there is a wall between news and entertainment.” And NPR’s David Folkenflik pointed out that, as president, Trump will be appointing the regulators tasked with scrutinizing the media, which NBC has an obvious interest in. Media Matters’ Eric Boehlert explained on MSNBC’s AM Joy that “No amount of disclosure is enough here. Is NBC for the next four years, every time they report on Trump, [going to] say, ‘By the way, our parent company has a financial relationship with Donald Trump’?” Boehlert also asked, "what if a company, in theory, says, 'Let's give The Apprentice $5 million and Trump could get a cut of that?' I mean, we're just paying off the president.”

    NBC cut ties with Trump last summer, declining to air his Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants and stating that the network did not want to be associated with Trump because his bigoted statements had defied its core values. What’s unclear now is whether NBC believes Trump’s values have changed or whether the network believes such statements became acceptable with his election.

    Sign Media Matters’ petition telling NBC to dump Trump.

  • AP: Ethics Experts Concerned Over NBC’s “Mind-Boggling” Ties To Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Associated Press highlighted how President-elect Donald Trump’s financial ties to NBC have created new concerns among ethics experts about conflicts NBC might face when “a company that has a news division is covering the president of the United States who has an interest in a show on that network.”

    Trump will remain an executive producer of NBC’s The Celebrity Apprentice, creating an unprecedented conflict of interest between a sitting president and a major news outlet. NBC News, MSNBC, and CNBC will be reporting on President Trump at the same time that their corporate parent will stand to benefit from Trump’s reputation and popularity. This places NBC's journalists in an untenable position. 

    In a December 9 article, The Associated Press highlighted ethics experts and journalism professors who voiced concern over NBC’s ties to Trump. Marcy McGinnis, a former CBS News executive and journalism professor, explained the problem, calling it “a clear conflict of interest to me that a company that has a news division is covering the president of the United States who has an interest in a show on that network.” She termed the arrangement “mind-boggling on so many levels.” Aly Colon, an “expert in journalist ethics,” noted people’s desire to “believe in an independent news division not affected by business ties.” From the AP:

    Donald Trump's continued stake in television's "Celebrity Apprentice" adds to questions about potential conflicts between his personal and public responsibilities, while raising new ones about NBC.

    If it continues, journalists at NBC News will be covering a president for a corporation whose entertainment division retains ties to the man. The reality show, which returns to NBC's schedule on Jan. 2 with Arnold Schwarzenegger replacing Trump as host, includes the president-elect as one of its executive producers.

    [...]

    "It's just so mind-boggling on so many levels," said Marcy McGinnis, a former CBS News executive who taught journalism at Stony Brook University. "It is a clear conflict of interest to me that a company that has a news division is covering the president of the United States who has an interest in a show on that network.

    "How do you remain unbiased?" she asked. "The onus is on NBC to say, 'we can't do this.'"

    People want to believe in an independent news division not affected by business ties, said Aly Colon, an expert in journalist ethics at Washington & Lee University who once worked in NBC's standards department. He said he's sure the issues are being considered at NBC.

    "A lot of people find it difficult to believe there is a wall between news and entertainment," Colon said.

    The liberal watchdog Media Matters for America on Friday launched a petition drive calling on NBC to cut ties with Trump, saying reporters are put in an untenable spot and that no amount of disclosure is enough when a network is financially invested in the president.

    Sign Media Matters’ petition telling NBC to Dump Trump.

  • CNN: Trump’s Apprentice Deal With NBC Gives Foreign Companies An Opportunity To “Curry Favor” With Trump 

    NBC Is Providing Foreign Companies, Defense Contractors And Private Equity Firms With A Way To Pay President Trump 

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President-elect Donald Trump’s plans to remain an executive producer of NBC’s The Celebrity Apprentice as president “could provide him with a cut of the money generated by NBC's product integration deals for the show,” and provides ways for advertisers, foreign companies, defense contractors and private equity firms to “curry favor” with Trump, according to CNN.

    NBC’s decision to retain Trump as an executive producer on The Celebrity Apprentice raises a number of conflict of interest concerns that include advertisers' ability to pay Trump while they have business in front of government, as well as NBC’s financial investment in Trump’s reputation. For these reasons, Media Matters is calling on NBC to end this insurmountable problem and cut ties with President-elect Trump.

    On December 9, CNN’s Dylan Byers quoted “a Hollywood source with direct knowledge” of Trump’s contractual arrangement with NBC to report that “if that arrangement is still in place, it is now a potential avenue of influence for companies.” Reality shows like The Celebrity Apprentice offer “product integration,” better known as product placement, to any number of advertisers, including ”brands owned by foreign companies; private equity firms, which have done deals with the show before; or defense contractors that also produce consumer goods.” In 2011, Byers reports, the integrations cost “between $5 million and $9 million” per episode. Assuming Trump’s deal with NBC has not changed, “the companies buying product integrations on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ will be indirectly paying money to the President-elect.” Byers’ source remarked that "If an advertiser wants to curry favor with Trump, that's the way to do it.":

    For years, Trump has received a portion of the revenue from the show's product integration deals, the source said. If that arrangement is still in place, it is now a potential avenue of influence for companies that want to get the ear of Trump and his administration, and presents a thorny situation for Comcast/NBCUniversal, which controls the deals.

    "If an advertiser wants to curry favor with Trump, that's the way to do it," the source said.
    That could include brands owned by foreign companies; private equity firms, which have done deals with the show before; or defense contractors that also produce consumer goods. Any company like these might have a vested interest in getting in good favor with the 45th President of the United States.

    In reality television, product integration refers to deals in which advertisers pay to place their products in a show. When contestants on "Celebrity Apprentice" are tasked with directing a commercial for a new OnStar product, creating a retail strategy for LifeLock or repackaging Omaha Steaks, that is product integration. In 2011, Ad Age reported that advertisers were paying between $5 million and $9 million to get their product integrated into a single episode.

    The source could not confirm that the terms of the arrangement had not changed. NBC, the network that airs "Celebrity Apprentice," did not respond to requests for comment. MGM, the company that owns the show, declined comment.

    [...]

    There was one agreement covering both "The Apprentice" and "Celebrity Apprentice," the source said. If that deal is still in place, the companies buying product integrations on "Celebrity Apprentice" will be indirectly paying money to the President-elect.

    Tell NBC to Dump Trump.

  • NBC Should Address Conflict Of Interest Concerns Following Report That Trump Will Remain On Celebrity Apprentice Payroll

    NBC Will Have A Financial Relationship With President Trump As Long As Celebrity Apprentice Is On The Air

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET


    Variety
    managing editor Cynthia Littleton reported “Donald Trump will remain an exec producer on NBC’s ‘Celebrity Apprentice,’” creating a conflict of interest for NBC’s ability to provide unbiased coverage of Trump while promoting a show built on Trump’s reputation.

    On December 8, Variety reported “Trump’s fees will be paid through MGM, the production entity on the show, not NBC,” but “the fact that a sitting president will be on the payroll of a current TV show is another example of the thicket of potential conflicts of interest raised by Trump’s segue from a private businessman and TV star to commander-in-chief.”

    Donald Trump will remain an exec producer on NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” which is returning Jan. 2 after a two-year hiatus with new host Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    [...]

    The larger issue for MGM, NBC, and the White House is the payment that Trump will receive for the series. It’s unclear what his per-episode fee is, but it is likely to be in the low five-figures, at minimum. NBC has ordered eight episodes of “The New Celebrity Apprentice.” Trump’s fees will be paid through MGM, the production entity on the show, not NBC. MGM declined to comment on the financial terms of Trump’s deal. A spokeswoman for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment. NBC declined to comment.

    [...]

    The fact that a sitting president will be on the payroll of a current TV show is another example of the thicket of potential conflicts of interest raised by Trump’s segue from private businessman and TV star to commander-in-chief. However, past presidents have published books during their time in the White House, so there is precedent for a president earning royalties while in office. In the case of President Obama’s 2010 book “Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters,” his profits from the Alfred A. Knopf publication were donated to a charity supporting the children of disabled veterans.

    In continuing their financial relationship with Trump, NBC will invite skepticism into how NBC and MSNBC can fairly cover the sitting president when there is a financial incentive to protect his reputation and the ratings of the Celebrity Apprentice. Furthermore, Trump and NBC should address the conflict of interest concerns raised by the fact advertisers may help to personally enrich President-elect Donald Trump by purchasing ads during Celebrity Apprentice.

    NBC should move to address concerns raised by Variety’s reporting, and publicly state how it will balance its financial relationship with Trump while maintaining the network’s journalistic legitimacy.

  • Right-Wing Civil War: Megyn Kelly Trades Barbs With Breitbart Editor-At-Large Over Dangers Of Empowering "Alt-Right"

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    Fox News host Megyn Kelly and Breitbart editor-at-large Joel Pollak traded attacks about the "alt-right’s" “potentially dangerous” influence in media and their role in the 2016 presidential campaign.

    In a December 7 interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, host Terry Gross discussed the misogynistic attacks and threats from Trump supporters which made it necessary for Kelly to use security for the entire year. Kelly also spoke about the dangers of empowering the "alt-right," and noted the problems one young woman had with Breitbart.com and their "alt-right" supporters when she dared “to say something about the fact that Corey Lewandowski laid hands on her.“ Kelly praised Breitbart’s founder Andrew Breitbart, but said, “if you look at what’s happened to Breitbart over the past three years, it’s shocking:”

    TERRY GROSS (HOST): This is an example of how the “alt-right” -- and the “alt-right” is a rebranding of white nationalists and people who are misogynist, racist -- so, the alt-right has kind of gone after you, ever since your dust-up with Trump at the debate. Are you concerned that president-elect Trump seems to have empowered these people?

    MEGYN KELLY: Well, I do think they are a potentially dangerous force. And you know, even when it comes to the book review -- look, I have a powerful platform. I can come talk to Terry Gross for an hour, but a lot of authors who are on the wrong side of Trump -- take Michelle Fields, right? The one who alleged that Corey Lewandowski had physically assaulted her, Trump’s old campaign manager, she had a book. She doesn’t have the powerful platform.

    She worked for Breitbart, and left when they failed to defend her, and she got targeted by these folks on Amazon, and they killed her book, and that’s not okay. Alright? This woman hasn’t done anything wrong, anything, other than find herself on the wrong end of these folks, for whom she used to work. But even that wasn’t enough to engender any loyalty, or affection for her, because she decided to say something about the fact that Corey Lewandowski laid hands on her. This is a man who threatened me explicitly as well.

    And look, Trump’s got bigger things to worry about than this particular group, but it is also a dangerous game to empower them, as clearly has happened. I mean, Steve Bannon is -- he’s chief advisor to our president-elect. And I understand the argument that he’s just a provocateur, and he comes up with these crazy headlines, and they want clicks, but if you look at what's happened to Breitbart [News] over the past three years, it's shocking.

    I knew Andrew Breitbart very well and he was great. I loved him. He was a true provocateur who would be fun about it, you know. He'd show up at a democratic protest and engage with the protesters and then he'd go have a beer with them. This is something else entirely, and I don't know that Trump can stop it. I don't know who, if anyone, can stop it.

    GROSS: How do you see your role as a journalist in covering the “alt-right?”

    KELLY: It’s precarious, because they will come after you. I mean, they will target you, and they will be relentless about it. But -- so I, again, have this great platform, and I have this powerful company behind me, and I’m lucky to have a company that can look at it with that perspective. I think other organizations need to keep that in mind, that it doesn’t -- when I say you’re going to have to steel your spine, you know, to cover this White House and deal with some of Trump’s supporters, I mean it could affect your pocketbook as a news organization.

    [...]

    KELLY: Look at my case, Terry. If somebody gets targeted by this group physically, and they have death threats, how much money can a news organization expend to provide that person with a bodyguard? At some point, real dollars get involved here in these decisions. And, you know, that’s -- that’s when these news organizations are going to have to find their inner strength.

    In response to Kelly’s criticism of Breitbart and its elevation of “alt-right” white nationalist movement, Breitbart editor-at-large Joel Pollak tweeted Kelly “bashes Breitbart. I’ve never been a critic. Until now, maybe. Would she dare let me defend? I doubt it.”

    The conflict between Megyn Kelly and Breitbart revives long-standing tensions between the Fox News host and the far-right outlet. In March, Kelly invited Michelle Fields, a former Breitbart employee who spoke out against Breitbart leadership’s attempts at “smearing” her reputation. In return, Breitbart has run articles with headlines such as “Steve Bannon: I Warned Roger Ailes That Megyn Kelly Would Turn On Him,” and described Newt Gingrich’s insult-laden rant against Kelly as “Gingrich Slams Megyn Kelly For Treatment Of Trump -- ‘You Are Fascinated With Sex And You Don’t Care About Public Policy.”

  • News Outlet Owned By Trump Son In-Law Posts Op-Ed Calling For FBI Investigation Of Anti-Trump Protests

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    The Observer, a news site owned by President-elect Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, posted an op-ed calling for an FBI investigation into the “political thuggery” of anti-Trump protests taking place in the wake of the presidential election.

    Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump threatened and criticized protesters during campaign events, saying of one that he’d like to “punch him in the face” and reminiscing of the “good old days” when protesters would be “carried out on a stretcher.” Trump even threatened to “start pressing charges” against protesters after demonstrations during a Chicago campaign rally caused the event to be postponed after fights broke out between demonstrators and Trump supporters. Now Trump supporters want an FBI investigation of of anti-Trump protests.

    On December 2, the Observer posted an op-ed written by University of Texas in Austin adjunct professor Austin Bay, which called for FBI Director James Comey to conduct a “detailed investigation” into the anti-Trump protests taking place across the country. To make his point, Bay invokes “Kristallnacht,” a 1938 incident in which Nazis burned synagogues, vandalized Jewish-owned businesses and homes, and resulted in 30,000 Jewish men being sent to concentration camps. Bay even cites notorious conspiracy theorist Jim Hoft’s blog post claiming anti-Trump protesters were paid to protest, a claim that gained traction based on a fake news story.

    The posting of the op-ed is extremely concerning given the influence Kushner has on his father-in-law. In July, The New York Times reported that Kushner had “become involved in virtually every facet of the Trump presidential operation” and wrote that many viewed him as the “de facto campaign manager.” Following the election, Kushner also explored legal loopholes that would allow him to bypass federal nepotism laws and join the Trump administration in an official capacity:

    Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of President-elect Donald J. Trump, has spoken to a lawyer about the possibility of joining the new administration, a move that could violate federal anti-nepotism law and risk legal challenges and political backlash.

    […]

    Mr. Trump is urging his son-in-law to join him in the White House, according to one of the people briefed. The president-elect’s sentiment is shared by Stephen K. Bannon, the chief strategist for the White House, and Reince Priebus, who was named chief of staff. Mr. Kushner accompanied Mr. Trump to the White House on Thursday, when the president-elect held his first in-person meeting with President Obama.

  • “Trump TV” Will Be In The White House Press Briefings

    Right Side Broadcasting Network Announces They Will Get A Seat In White House Press Briefings

    Blog ››› ››› THOMAS BISHOP

    Right Side Broadcasting Network’s (RSBN) announcement that they will be participating in White House press briefings is raising new questions about whether President-elect Donald Trump intends to bypass traditional media as President and create a press corps more favorable to his administration.

    During their live coverage of President-elect Donald Trump’s “Thank You” rally in North Carolina on December 6, the show’s host Joe Seales announced that the network is “going to become a 24-hour network very soon.” Seales also said the network will “be in the White House” and “be at the press briefings” during the Trump administration:

    According to Foreign Policy magazine, to get accredited to report in the White House, “a reporter first needs to be approved for a congressional press pass by the Standing Committee of Correspondents, elected by accredited reporters.” RSBN must also meet a number of other requirements along with their application to be credentialed as a reporter in the White House:

    Among other requirements, congressional reporters must demonstrate that they work for a publication whose "principal business is the daily dissemination of original news and opinion of interest to a broad segment of the public" and is "editorially independent of any institution, foundation or interest group that lobbies the federal government." The White House also requires an additional Secret Service background check.

    Trump could, however, circumvent press rules and procedures by allowing a non-credentialed reporter to ask questions during the briefings, which is exactly what happened in the last Republican administration. Jeff Gannon of the right-wing Talon News was “admitted on a day-to-day basis” into the White House briefing room where he was “repeatedly allowed to ask — usually friendly” questions to the Bush administration.

    It is unclear whether RSBN has applied or meet any of the standards set by the rules governing the press galleries, but their relationship with Trump makes their announcement problematic.

    The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers has described Right Side Broadcasting as “the unofficial version of Trump TV since last summer,” noting the Trump campaign had “teamed up with Right Side to produce pre- and post-debate analysis shows that streamed on Trump’s Facebook Page.” Borchers additionally noted Right Side Broadcasting CEO Joe Seales had previously told Reddit users to address mainstream media outlets by “continu[ing] to discredit them.”

    The announcement also comes as right-wing media figures are urging Trump to exclude mainstream news outlets from press briefings. Fox host Sean Hannity has repeatedly questioned why journalists from CNN, NBC, Politico, and the New York Times “have a seat in the White House press room,” claimed “it’s time to reevaluate the press and maybe change the traditional relationship with the press and the White House,” and urged the Trump administration to get rid of the White House press office and “start over.”

    Given Trump’s long adversarial relationship with the press, it appears he is taking this advice to heart and attempting to push out mainstream journalists in favor of reporters made in his own image.

  • BuzzFeed: “Most Americans Who See Fake News Believe It”

    People Who Use Facebook As “A Major Source Of News” Are More Likely To Believe Fake News

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A survey conducted exclusively for BuzzFeed News found that “fake news headlines fool American adults about 75% of the time.” 

    The problem of fake news was a major factor in the 2016 presidential election. Fake right-wing news sites, sometimes presented as legitimate news outlets, flooded social media with false and misleading articles that outperformed actual news during the election. 

    BuzzFeed reported on December 6 that their survey was the “first large-scale public opinion research study into the fake news phenomenon.” Their results revealed that a majority of American adults can be fooled by fake news headlines “about 75% of the time,” in part because evaluating headlines is difficult “without context on social media platforms.” The survey further “call[ed] into question” Facebook’s defense that “consumers themselves” can distinguish between real and fake news, because the survey “suggest[ed] that consumers are likely to believe even false stories that don’t fit their ideological bias”:

    Fake news headlines fool American adults about 75% of the time, according to a large-scale new survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for BuzzFeed News.

    The survey also found that people who cite Facebook as a major source of news are more likely to view fake news headlines as accurate than those who rely less on the platform for news.

    This survey is the first large-scale public opinion research study into the fake news phenomenon that has had a sweeping effect on global politics, and that recently caused a gunman to threaten a DC pizza place. The results paint a picture of news consumers with little ability to evaluate the headlines that often fly toward them without context on social media platforms. They also — surprisingly — suggest that consumers are likely to believe even false stories that don’t fit their ideological bias. And the survey calls into question the notion — which Facebook has reportedly begun testing — that consumers themselves can do the work of distinguishing between real and fake news.

    The new data comes from an online survey of 3,015 US adults conducted between Nov. 28 and Dec. 1. For more on the methodology, see the bottom of this article. A detailed summary of results to all questions can be found here. Additional calculations can be found here.

    “The 2016 election may mark the point in modern political history when information and disinformation became a dominant electoral currency,” said Chris Jackson of Ipsos Public Affairs, which conducted the survey on behalf of BuzzFeed News. “Public opinion, as reflected in this survey, showed that ‘fake news’ was remembered by a significant portion of the electorate and those stories were seen as credible.”

    The survey found that those who identify as Republican are more likely to view fake election news stories as very or somewhat accurate. Roughly 84% of the time, Republicans rated fake news headlines as accurate (among those they recognized), compared to a rate of 71% among Democrats. The survey also found that Trump voters are more likely to rate familiar fake news headlines as accurate than Clinton voters.