Last night, President Obama appeared on Jimmy Fallon’s unwatchable show to “slow-jam the news.” By this, Fallon meant that Obama would read a campaign speech about student loans, Fallon would utter a few lines to back him up every so often, and his lead band singer would warble in support of Obama’s propaganda.
Only one problem, aside from the fact that this was possibly the worst “comedy” segment in the history of mankind: it violated campaign finance law.
The equal time rule states that if a licensee permits a person “who is a legally qualified candidate for any public office to use a broadcasting station, he shall afford equal opportunities to all other such candidates for that office in the use of such broadcasting station.”
There are exceptions to the rule: appearances on (1) a bona fide newscast, (2) a bona fide news interview, (3) a bona fide news documentary, or (4) on-the-spot coverage of bona fide news events.
Only the second provision could be construed as saving NBC from giving Mitt Romney equal time. But this was not a bona fide news interview. In fact, it wasn’t an interview at all – no questions were asked, no answers were given. It was literally Obama reading a campaign speech over a guitar, a horn, a keyboard, and some drums.
Not only was this appearance in violation of equal time law, it was clearly an in-kind contribution by NBC to the Obama campaign. As the Federal Elections Commission states, “A donation of services is … considered an in-kind contribution.” Under applicable law, contribution of broadcast time is considered such a service. This was a campaign commercial for Obama, and the Obama campaign was not charged for it. A minute of network time can cost up to a couple million dollars; this segment ran a full five minutes. There is no doubt that Obama was given millions of dollars of free advertising time, and the Romney campaign should invoke all available law to make that clear.
NBC should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Mitt Romney should be given equal time, and an equally sycophantic propaganda piece by Fallon. Obama should be ashamed of himself (though, of course, he has no capacity for shame).