NBC didn't seriously cover the news that its parent company avoided paying taxes last year when that story hit the front page of the New York Times on Friday. As the Washington Post points out, it didn't cover it Saturday, Sunday or Monday, either. Today, based on searches on its site, it seems the network still hasn't devoted any time to the story.
Since 1986, when General Electric purchased NBC, there have been periodic charges that the NBC News division would take it easy on its owner. Earlier this year, Comcast became the majority owner of NBC Universal (GE still owns 49%), but it hasn't quieted critics.
Jon Stewart called out the network on Monday night for not covering its parent company's taxes, pointing out that it had time on Friday to run a story about the Oxford English Dictionary adding the word "muffin top" to its latest edition. The MSNBC site (NBC's central news portal on the Web) today features a business story about Girl Scout cookies (which is actually kind of awesome), but as far as we can find, still no original coverage of GE's great tax dodge.
What we did find was a reprint of the New York Times story on the MSNBC Web site. There's also an MSNBC "Last Word" segment with Lawrence O'Donnel from Friday, in which O'Donnel reads GE's response to the Times story, then examines the company's tax return, comparing it to an individual fudging the deduction on his or her home office. The company pointed out that since it had lost so much through GE Capital, it net taxes were zero, but that if one took out GE Capital from the equation, its taxes would be 21 percent. "That explains why a company that made 14.2 billion dollars last year and 5.1 billion in the United States is paying no coroproate income tax in the United states." But that doesn't explain why the network GE owns didn't dedicate any serious coverage to the story.
The Post asked the network to explain itself.
“This was a straightforward editorial decision, the kind we make daily around here,” said Lauren Kapp, spokeswoman for NBC News. Kapp declined to discuss how NBC decides what’s news or, in this case, what isn’t.
But media watchers were not convinced.
Ignoring stories about its parent company’s activities is “part of a troubling pattern” for NBC News, said Peter Hart, a director at Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a liberal media watchdog group that often documents instances of corporate interference in news. He cited a series of GE-related stories that NBC’s news division has underplayed over the years, from safety issues in GE-designed nuclear power plants to the dumping of hazardous chemicals into New York’s Hudson River by GE-owned plants.
What’s more, Hart notes, NBC News has covered corporate tax-avoidance stories before — that is, when they didn’t involve GE. All three networks’ news divisions, according to Hart, have become reliable sources of publicity for their parents’ other corporate interests, doing news stories about upcoming sporting events or new TV shows carried on their own networks.
NBC has a page of its news site devoted to GE (which makes sense, given that it's the nation's largest company), but so far that page lacks serious tax coverage. Might the network of Tom Brokaw and Bill Monroe be succumbing to pressure from upstairs? All it has to do to prove otherwise is report the story.
Here's Jon Stewart again on why that might be hard to do: