Memo to MSNBC: Media Companies Are Corporations Too

February 2nd, 2010 5:49 PM

The left is up in arms over the Supreme Court's recent decision in "Citizens United v. the Federal Elections Commission". But few voices have been louder than those emanating from the echo chamber at MSNBC. It seems that the cable network's talking heads feel that their parent company, General Electric, deserves a special exemption to what should be a blanket ban on unrestricted corporate speech.

First a bit of background for those unfamiliar with the Supreme Court decision. The court struck down in a 5-4 ruling a ban on corporate (or union) spending on political speech specifically endorsing or attacking a candidate for office within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. It ruled that the ban violated the First Amendment.

Few liberals seemed to notice that in attacking corporate speech they were also effectively undermining their own employers, media corporations who employs them for the express purpose of engaging in political speech. Surely Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow would defend MSNBC's right to speak (and spend) freely without interference from the federal government--especially in the run-up to an election when free speech is most important and must be protected.

In his opinion for the majority, Justice Kennedy wrote that the restrictions the court repealed could lead to constraints on the speech of media companies, so as to comply with restrictions on corporate expenditures. The law the court overturned, he wrote,

 ...would produce the dangerous, and unacceptable, consequence that Congress could ban political speech of media corporations… [M]edia corporations accumulate wealth with the help of the corporate form, the largest media corporations have “immense aggregations of wealth,” and the views expressed by media corporations often “have little or no correlation to the public’s support” for those views… Thus, under the [FEC's] reasoning, wealthy media corporations could have their voices diminished to put them on par with other media entities. There is no precedent for permitting this under the First Amendment.

Despite the court's attempt to safeguard the First Amendment rights of, among others, MSNBC, the channel's talking heads took to the air the night of the ruling to blast the Supreme Court for allowing corporate money to influence politics. Rachel Maddow whined, with a sign reading "Goliath wins" behind her,

Today, in one of the most radical supreme court actions in years, Justice Roberts, and Alito, and their five-member conservative majority overthrew at least a decade of settled law and congressional action and multiple Supreme Court precedents to wipe those laws away.

Corporations are free to inject unregulated billions--absolutely unlimited money--into the political system now.

Keith Olbermann, in true hyperbolic fashion, said the decision could be worse than the infamous "Dred Scott" case of 1857, and stated "It is almost literally true that any political science fiction nightmare you can now dream up, no matter whether you are conservative or liberal, it is now legal."

While they were bashing corporate political speech, however, they forgot to save some disdain for GE. The company has, after all, used MSNBC as a mouthpiece for policies that benefit the parent corporation. MSNBC has been the most outspoken supporter of President Obama of any of the cable networks, which would be of little import had GE's CEO Jeff Immelt not said this to his shareholders mere days after Obama's inauguration:

...I believe we are going through more than a cycle. The global economy, and capitalism, will be “reset” in several important ways.

The interaction between government and business will change forever. In a reset economy, the government will be a regulator; and also an industry policy champion, a financier, and a key partner.

According to a new book from Washington Examiner columnist Tim Carney (whose research has led him to dub GE the "for-profit arm of the Obama administration"), GE gave more in donations to then-candidate Obama in 2008 than it has to any other candidate for any office, and more than it gave to its top 28 Republican recipients combined during the 2008 cycle.

It is no surprise that GE was so generous to Obama; the company stands to gain from some of the president's biggest legislative initiatives, especially in the realm of energy policy. Indeed, GE's colossal team of lobbyists--it has spent $184 million on them since 1998, more than any other company by far--played a key role in crafting the House of Representatives's Cap and Trade bill.

GE exec John Rice wrote to employees, "we were able to work closely with key authors of the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill, recently passed by the House of Representatives. If this bill is enacted into law it would benefit many GE businesses." The company is quite invested in the bill's passage.

In pushing global warming alarmism, MSNBC and its television news affiliates have supported policies and policymakers that would benefit--in the form of potential billions in additional revenues--their parent company (see here, here, here, here, and here).

Some MSNBC talking heads have even admitted their de facto alliance with the president on various issues or in general. Chris Matthews, for instance, insisted that it was his duty to do "everything I can to make this thing work--this new [Obama] presidency work." Nancy Snyderman claimed on her show that "the White House, their health care agenda continues to be our agenda."

So when Olbermann and Maddow takes to the airwaves to complain about undue corporate influence on the political process, what they are really seem to be saying is the undue corporate influence of companies other than General Electric.