Matt Lauer Downplays NBC's Massive Conflict Of Interest With Trump While Interviewing His Celebrity Apprentice Replacement
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Since the presidential election, conservative radio host Sean Hannity has devoted himself to promoting the dangerous and undemocratic notion that President-elect Donald Trump should not have a press office in his White House. The Trump campaign is taking steps to ensure that Hannity’s vision may become a reality.
Hannity has used his radio and television shows to urge the incoming president to “rethink how he deals with media,” arguing that mainstream media outlets are “all full of crap." Hannity advised fellow right-wing radio host and potential Trump administration press secretary Laura Ingraham that, if she got the job, she should not "go out and talk with" the media every day. Hannity even suggested to Trump advisor Newt Gingrich that, instead of a press office, Trump should come on The Sean Hannity Show to “take calls from people all over the country.”
On December 14, Hannity repeated his offer to allow Trump to have a “fireside chat” using the 550 radio stations that receive his broadcasts instead of Trump taking the media's "inane, idiotic, combative questions every day":
SEAN HANNITY (HOST): Journalism’s dead. I honestly could see Trump saying, “we don't need a White House press office anymore. We don’t need” -- He hasn't named a press secretary. Why? Why go out there, the dog-and-phony-pony show? Where you have a bunch of Hillary Clinton supporters in the media, a bunch of propagandists, a bunch of people that colluded with the Clinton campaign, why sit there evwery day and take their inane, idiotic, combative questions every day? What, and then what, run it on MSNBC? Because they can’t get any better programming than that? I think you just say forget it. I’ll do a fireside chat with him.
It appears that the Trump administration is listening. On Wednesday Reince Priebus, incoming Trump administration chief of staff, told right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt that “many things have to change” in the relationship between the White House and the press, “including the daily briefing with the White House Press Secretary and the seating chart." According to Politico, Priebus said that "I think that it’s important that we look at all of those traditions that are great, but quite frankly, as you know, don’t really make news and they're just sort of mundane, boring episodes”:
Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus suggested that major changes are coming to the White House press corps.
Speaking to radio host Hugh Hewitt, Priebus said "many things have to change" in the White House's relationship and daily traditions with the media, including the daily briefing with the White House Press Secretary and the seating chart.
"I think that it’s important that we look at all of those traditions that are great, but quite frankly, as you know, don’t really make news and they're just sort of mundane, boring episodes," Priebus said.
"The point of all of this conversation is that the traditions, while some of them are great, I think it’s time to revisit a lot of these things that have been done in the White House, and I can assure you that change is going to happen, even on things that might seem boring like this topic, but also change as far as how we’re going to approach tax reform, the American worker, how we protect them and business all at the same time why skyrocketing our economy," Priebus told Hewitt.
Trump is already setting the stage for more favorable press coverage during his presidential tenure. Right Side Broadcasting Network, a new 24-hour conservative media network favorable to Trump has recently announced that they will “be in the White House” and “be at the press briefings” in the Trump administration. And while Trump has been extremely hostile to the press, Trump has maintained his relationship with Hannity. After his election, President-elect Trump was sure to make his first cable TV appearance with Hannity, who not only appeared in a campaign advertisement for Trump before the election but also gave Trump over $31 million in free publicity and over 24 hours in total airtime.
A Media Matters analysis found that Google AdSense-linked advertisements were still running on countless hyperpartisan websites peddling fake news nearly a month after Google announced it would ban these types of sites from using its online advertising service. Ads linked to Google AdSense create key revenue streams that make fake news content profitable and enable purveyors of fake news to thrive.
On November 14, Google announced that it would “ban websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising service” in order to target fake news purveyors’ revenue sources. Online publishers can earn money through Google’s AdSense program by hosting advertisements on their websites while Google serves as a middleman between publishers and advertisers. Google’s new policy expanded its existing ban on misleading advertisements, “including promotions for counterfeit goods and weight-loss scams, … to the websites its advertisements run on.” Google spokesperson Andrea Faville released the following statement on the new policy:
Moving forward, we will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content or the primary purpose of the web property.
In a report on the decision, The New York Times acknowledged that “it remains to be seen how effective Google’s new policy on fake news will be in practice.”
Despite Google’s announcement nearly a month ago, a Media Matters search of more than 40 fake-news-peddling websites found that a majority were still displaying ads linked to Google AdSense.
Ad revenue is a driving cause of the recent fake news explosion, in which engagement with top fake news stories posted on Facebook surpassed engagement with top news stories from reputable outlets on Facebook in the last three months of the 2016 election. As TechCrunch explained, while mainstream outlets “may be held accountable for exaggeration,” fake news purveyors “can focus on short-term traffic and ad revenue,” which “incentivize(s) misinformation.” Google turns billions in profits by allowing advertisers to use its advertising service on third-party websites.
In November, BuzzFeed broke a story on young Macedonians running more than 100 pro-Donald Trump websites pushing fake news content. The websites’ owners told BuzzFeed that “they don’t care about Donald Trump” -- then the Republican presidential nominee -- and were “responding to straightforward economic incentives.” Detailing their strategy, they acknowledged that “the best way to generate traffic is to get their politics stories to spread on Facebook — and the best way to generate shares on Facebook is to publish sensationalist and often false content that caters to Trump supporters.” The teens then earn money from ads on their websites as a result of increased traffic via Facebook clicks. Anecdotally, BuzzFeed reported that unnamed owners earned up to $3,000 per day or $5,000 per month.
The Washington Post’s Abby Ohlheiser detailed how fake news writers make money, with one interviewee telling her he makes “$10,000 a month from AdSense.” That same fake news writer said that if Google and Facebook “are successful in stopping fake-news sites from profiting … the effect would be devastating for his revenue.” David Carroll, an expert in advertising technology and professor at the New School, estimated that one fake-news share from a person within the Trump campaign “could earn the lucky hoaxer as much as $10,000 in extra revenue” and called it a “‘huge economic incentive to create stories that they want to distribute.’”
In practice, Google’s announced ban can be effective in stopping websites from peddling fake news. RedFlag News, which frequently publishes fake news stories, announced on December 2 that Google had disabled its advertising service on the platform. According to the website, RedFlag News saw a “50% drop in traffic” and a sharp decline in its Facebook audience engagement in recent weeks. The site is now accepting donations to its “Facebook, Google AdSense & Twitter Emergency Fund” to stay afloat.
Evidence suggests, however, that plenty of websites that push fake news stories have yet to feel the effects of Google’s ban, instead remaining incentivized to publish fabricated, sensationalist content without regard for the truth.
Image created by Sarah Wasko.
Websites circulating fake news were still using Google’s online advertising service as of December 12, nearly one month after Google announced it would ban such sites from using its advertising platform as a revenue source.
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Brian Stelter: "What Is He Hiding?"
Media figures criticized the secrecy surrounding President-elect Donald Trump's postponement of a press conference regarding his conflicts of interest arising from his business holdings.
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NBC's Financial Relationship With The President-Elect Puts Its Reporters In An Impossible Situation
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.
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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.
NBC Is Providing Foreign Companies, Defense Contractors And Private Equity Firms With A Way To Pay President Trump
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.
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NBC Will Have A Financial Relationship With President Trump As Long As Celebrity Apprentice Is On The Air
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.
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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.”
— Joel B. Pollak (@joelpollak) December 7, 2016
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.”