Not only did NBC debate moderators give California Sen. Kamala Harris extra time during its June debate, it turns out twelve executives from NBC Universal and parent company Comcast gave her campaign cash too.
NBC was ready to crown Harris the victor after its two-night, Democratic debates June 26 and 27. In various programming the network heaped praise on the “breakout star,” calling her “brave” and “powerful.”
But NBC’s moderators broke their own debate rules by giving Harris more time than she was supposed to get, some of which she used to attack former Vice President Joe Biden and accuse him. The resulting exchange caused MSNBC host Chris Matthews to wonder if Biden could survive Harris’ “amazing night in history.”
Now, recently released Federal Election Commission data revealed Harris had another kind of help from NBC.
At least 12 NBCUniversal/Comcast executives donated to the Harris campaign in the months leading up to the debate. The FEC data included March and April 2019 donations, raising concerns about potential conflicts of interest.
Those five were Vice Chairman of NBC Universal Ronald Meyer, Chairman of NBCU Film and Entertainment Jeff Shell, President of NBC Universal International Television Distribution and Universal Networks International Belinda Menendez, Comcast Spotlight Senior Vice President and Marketing Executive Maria Weaver and Vice President of Enterprise Sales and Global Commercial Development Katie Back of FreeWheel, A Comcast Company.
The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics clearly states that journalists should “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.”
It also states that journalists should refuse credibility-harming “special treatment” and should “Avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.”
NBC Universal had not responded to Media Research Center’s request for comment as of July 23, 2019.
NBC Moderators Help Harris By Extending Her Time, Breaking Their Own Rules
NBC’s rules for the debate were that “candidates will have 60 seconds to answer questions and 30 seconds to respond to follow-ups. And there will be no opening statements, though candidates will have a chance to deliver closing remarks.”
In reality, there were multiple instances where moderators Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow broke those rules.
Maddow allowed Harris to give a speech on race neither in response to a question nor as a follow-up in violation of debate rules. The speech lasted approximately 1 minute and 45 seconds. She spent the majority of the time attacking Biden.
The speech occurred when Harris interrupted a question posed to opponent and author Marianne Williamson saying, “As the only black person on this stage, I would like to speak on the issue of race.”
Journalism group The Poynter Institute, a prominent journalism think tank, noted that the “magic moment” of Harris and Biden’s exchange on race was the moderators’ fault. In it, Harris attacked Biden over his Senate record working with segregationist congressional leaders.
Politico estimated that the entire exchange between Harris and Biden lasted a whopping 5 minutes.
The moderators “ignored the rules on time and simply let this hold-your-breath conversation play out for three minutes,” Poynter wrote. It disputed Maddow’s claim that “it had nothing to do with us,” and was unexpected, saying it was exactly the kind of showdown NBC News chairman Andy Lack was watching for.
Although Poynter called attention to the facts of the matter, it joined the liberal media in gushing over the incident itself and called it a “shining moment for NBC.”
The Washington Post reported on June 28, “Moderators backed off, letting the moment unfold, and the network provided the one absolutely necessary element: a split screen.”
Following the debate, NBC’s Today dedicated an entire segment to Harris “stealing the spotlight.”
Time breakdowns from multiple news outlets showed Harris may have received preferential speaking-treatment during the NBC debate.
Left-wing Vox reported June 27, that “Every person was expected to get an estimated 12 minutes each. According to analyses by The Washington Post, it didn’t exactly wind up being that equitable.” In terms of time spoken, Biden ranked first with 13.6 minutes of speaking time, and Harris second with 11.9 minutes. (Image: Chairman of NBCU Film and Entertainment Jeff Shell)
The New York Times came up with a slightly different time calculations, but still concluded Biden and Harris had the most speaking time of all the debate participants.
FEC Shows Comcast, NBCUniversal Decision Makers Gave to Harris 2020 Campaign
Data released in July from the Federal Election Commission revealed that at least 12 executives from NBC Universal or its parent company, Comcast Corporation, donated to the Harris campaign between January and early June 2019.
Those executives were Universal Pictures’ Donna Langley, Dwight Caines and Jennifer Tartikoff, Comcast’s Maria Weaver, FreeWheel’s Katie Back, NBC Entertainment’s Jennifer Salke (she left NBC for Amazon Studios sometime after making a February donation), NBCUniversal’s Ronald Meyer, Jeff Shell, Belinda Menendez, Brian Segna and Shamika Pryce, and Universal Studios’ Karen Irwin. (Image: NBCU Vice Chairman Ronald Meyer)
Of particular concern were the three executives who provide oversight to NBC News and two others who are in charge of Comcast’s political advertising sales: Meyer, Shell, Menendez, Weaver and Back. Meyer and Shell each gave the maximum allowed individual contribution: $2,800 to Harris’ campaign. Menendez, Weaver and Back had contributed $500 each.
Ronald Meyer is Vice Chairman of NBCUniversal, a role he’s had since 2013. As vice chairman, he’s in the upper echelon of NBC Universal decision-making. The website said, “He provides strategic guidance and counsel on all aspects of the company, including its valuable portfolio of film and television assets, as well as the global theme park businesses.”
Jeff Shell is Chairman of NBCU Film and Entertainment where “he oversees the content creation, programming and distribution engines behind NBCUniversal’s film and network television businesses including NBC Entertainment, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group (UFEG), Telemundo and NBCUniversal International.” It’s worth noting that Telemundo co-hosted the June 27, Democratic debate.
Belinda Menendez is President of NBC Universal International Television Distribution & Universal Networks International. She oversees “distribution and channels for NBCUniversal International’s television business,” which spreads NBC Universal’s network content across the globe.
Maria Weaver is Senior Vice President and Head of Marketing for Comcast Spotlight, the advertising sales division of Comcast Corporation. Part of the division’s portfolio includes advertisement for political content for NBC Universal subsidiaries (including NBC News).
Katie Back is Vice President of Enterprise Sales and Global Commercial Development at FreeWheel, A Comcast Company. Tech Crunch reported that FreeWheel is one of the largest ad platforms for TV networks and others that stream video. Back secures new business, renewals and “oversees the Commercial Development team at FreeWheel.”