What do you call it when the federal government pays a private company some money so that the private company will stump for the federal government’s agenda? Payola. Under the FCC rules and regulations
, “When a broadcast licensee has received or been promised payment for the airing of program material, then, at the time of the airing, the station must disclose that fact and identify who paid for or promised to pay for the material.”
So what do you call it when the federal government steers money to a major broadcast network so that the major broadcast network will stump for the federal government’s agenda?
That’s precisely what’s happening over at NBC this week. According to the Associated Press
NBC gives new meaning to the phrase "green screen" next week, spreading a pro-environmental message across five of its prime-time entertainment programs. "30 Rock," where Al Gore takes a cameo role, leads the way. Environmental themes were also added to the scripts of "The Biggest Loser," "The Office," "Heroes" and "Community." NBC Universal's three-year "green" campaign has largely focused on off-camera issues like making company facilities more eco-friendly. News and information programs have also been enlisted to do stories on environmental issues, but except for one "30 Rock" episode two years ago, the campaign hasn't touched the prime-time lineup.
Now, it’s clear that NBC has pushed this “green agenda” for years. And that makes sense – General Electric owns NBC, and General Electric is at the forefront in terms of producing “green products” like energy efficient lightbulbs. In May 2005, GE launched its $90 million “Ecomagination” advertising campaign, designed to demonstrate “GE’s commitment to address challenges such as the need for cleaner, more efficient sources of energy, reduced emissions and abundant sources of clean water,” according to GE CEO Jeff Immelt.
But something’s different this year. Now it’s not merely that NBC employees are supposed to recycle their paper. It’s not just that the news division focuses on stories about water and air quality. It’s that mainstream, prime-time programs have had their stories changed
in order to accommodate these liberal messages.
So what changed? Couldn’t have anything to do with the Obama Administration’s stimulus plan, which pledged to spend billions on “green jobs,” could it? GE backed the stimulus package to the hilt, with Immelt leading the way:
A balanced package of targeted tax relief combined with the swift infusion of capital into sustainable infrastructure like renewable energy, transportation and healthcare can add new jobs and, equally important, save existing jobs that otherwise are in real danger … We at GE will continue to support and advocate swift passage of legislation that is acceptable to the Senate, the House, and the Administration, and that can be promptly signed into law by the President.”
According to the 2008 GE Annual Report Letter
In the U.S., stimulus will target clean energy and smart grid technology. GE is well positioned to capitalize on these investments. We have a $7 billion renewable energy business with solid positions in wind and solar energy. We are deploying smart grid technology with key utility customers such as Pacific Gas and Electric Company, American Electric Power, and Florida Power & Lighting. This is an approximately $635 million business today, but will grow substantially in the next few years.
While certain sectors of GE took a major hit in 2008, the energy sector grew by 19%, and according to CNN.com, “Those units are expected to perform even better if GE is able to successfully bid on some of the government’s stimulus contracts. Immelt said on the conference call that stimulus should help speed up more than $100 billion of infrastructure projects in the company’s pipeline, including implementation of smart grid technology and health IT projects.” Which also helps explain GE’s support for the Obama health care plan.
And GE’s newly-enthused infusion of green propaganda into its mainstream shows couldn’t have anything to do with President Obama’s back-room deal with the pharmaceutical companies, could it? Big Pharma, as it is called, recently cut a deal with the Obama Administration that would limit its liability to $80 billion over the next ten years, so long as Big Pharma spends $100 million on pro-health care plan advertising – basically, a payoff for NBC and other mass media from the pocket of the pharmaceutical industry.
Obama’s warm relationship with Jeff Immelt also couldn’t be the reason he refuses to do anything about the massive charges of financial fraud leveled at GE in August, could it? In August, GE agreed to pay a $50 million fine
for SEC accounting violations. “GE bent the accounting rules beyond the breaking point,” explained Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. In Obama’s America, that type of malfeasance usually ends in executive heads rolling. In this case, it has ended with Immelt presiding over a bunch of green entertainment shows.
There is both a qualitative and a quantitative difference to what NBC is doing this year with its Go Green campaign. Prime-time broadcasting reaches a far greater audience than NBC News programming, and it can be far more effective in paving the way for social change.
It may seem like only a minor issue when it’s seen as a few messages about recycling, but it will seem far less mild when the Obama Administration rolls out its cap and trade plan – a plan which will benefit GE enormously. Jeff Immelt has already called the cap and trade plan “is the most effective way to create a market and go … let’s get it done.” Under Obama’s budget, “climate revenues” were slated to receive $646 billion over eight years, so it’s no wonder Immelt labeled the Obama Administration a “financier” and a “key partner.” As Timothy Carney of the Washington Examiner explains:
In the fourth quarter of 2008 as the company’s stock fell 30 percent, GE spent $4.26 million on lobbying — that’s $46,304 each day, including weekends, Thanksgiving and Christmas. In 2008, the company spent a grand total of $18.66 million on lobbying. Reviewing their lobbying filings, you might think you were looking at Al Gore’s agenda. GE’s specific lobbying issues included the “Climate Stewardship Act,” “Electric Utility Cap and Trade Act,” “Global Warming Reduction Act,” “Federal Government Greenhouse Gas Registry Act,” “Low Carbon Economy Act,” and “Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act.” This isn’t altruism or public relations. GE has started a joint venture called Greenhouse Gas Services, which invests in — and hopes to manage the trade in — greenhouse gas credits.
How can the quid pro quo here not be seen as a soft payola scandal? Clearly GE is directing NBC to push the Obama green agenda using all of its available outlets in order to both flog GE products and in order to incentivize the Obama Administration to continue directing a river of cash to GE.
Neither CBS nor ABC is pushing the green message, unlike the volunteerism message all the networks inserted in their programming several weeks back. This is a company-specific decision made by an executive board looking for more payoffs from a willing Administration. At the very least, NBC should run a disclaimer under the screen: “This segment brought to you by President Obama and his environmental agenda.”