The NBC Backlash: How Surprised Should We Be?

NBC and its subsidiary networks have long demonstrated a common worldview with Donald Trump. Why is everyone so surprised?

Yesterday, NBC announced that it had scheduled a town hall with U.S. President Donald Trump to take place tonight, October 15, at 8:00 p.m. The event will be shown nationally across several NBC properties, including the broadcast NBC network, basic cable networks MSNBC and CNBC, and streaming outlets ABC News Live, Hulu, YouTube TV and other streaming platforms, according to The New York Times.

This last-minute event was scheduled to take place live at 8:00 p.m. Eastern — the same time that ABC’s town hall with Joe Biden will take place. The ABC town hall will be shown on the ABC broadcast network and the ABC News streaming service, ABCNews.com, Hulu, YouTube TV and other streaming platforms with ABC News apps. ABC’s Biden town hall was scheduled last week, after Trump refused to participate in a virtual online debate, requested by the Biden campaign to protect the former vice president from exposure to the novel coronavirus, for which Donald Trump was recently treated.

Former NBC Today host Katie Couric criticized her former employer’s decision to counterprogram a Trump town hall that competes with ABC’s already-scheduled Biden town hall.

Within hours of NBC’s announcement, #BoycottNBC was trending on Twitter, as many American voters felt that NBC not only unnecessarily programmed its town hall to compete with Donald Trump — and, given NBC’s multiple cable networks, gives Trump far greater exposure than Biden will have — but by doing so also enabled Donald Trump to scheme his way out of a second debate with Joe Biden following Trump’s universally panned, decorum-free performance at their first and now presumably only debate on September 29.

In short, Donald Trump refused to participate in the time-honored tradition of debating his opponent because he failed in his first attempt to do so, and NBC in turn has given him a primetime television slot that likely will serve as an infomercial through which he communicates disinformation about COVID-19, disinformation about his candidate’s family, and more. Should NBC News allow Trump to co-opt NBC platforms, including the liberal-leaning MSNBC network, as a means by which to disseminate fabricated lies to smear his opponent and to downplay the 217,000-and-counting lives lost to COVID-19, NBC arguably will have volunteered to expend its own resources to serve as a promotional arm for state-issued propaganda and to give candidate Donald Trump a significant edge over his opponent by giving him greater exposure.

And so, #BoycottNBC materialized, followed soon thereafter by #FireChuckTodd. Chuck Todd is the political director for NBC News.

Many people are stunned that NBC chose to do this — yet NBC News and other NBC networks have made some remarkable decisions in recent years that might lend some insight into some network executives’ sympathies for Donald Trump, or at least for Trumplike behaviors.

Below: A clip from ‘The Apprentice.’ Ivanka Trump: “You had asked me if I believe in sabotage — and I do if it’s well calculated and if it can be used to further what you’re trying to do.”

The Apprentice was a cash cow for NBC, and a lifeline for Trump’s failing empire.

A few weeks ago, The New York Times published what should have been a bombshell, game-changing report on Donald Trump’s tax filings. Within days of the Times’s first report and Trump’s protests, however, the White House announced that Donald Trump had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. He was airlifted to Walter Reed Hospital for treatment, and all the cameras and all the attentions of the media dutifully followed, rendering the Times story many American voters had waited four years for little more than a blip on the radio. The White House’s old razzle-dazzle effectively outmaneuvered media and public scrutiny as journalists from all networks wished him a full and speedy recovery, which he made — speedier than any other COVID-19 patient I’ve heard about.

The Times reported that NBC’s The Apprentice, which aired from 2003 to 2014, generated over $400 million in profits for Donald Trump. According to the Times, the Trump corporation’s assets were on life support when he began the series, effectively making him a failure or in Trump’s parlance a ‘loser’ at business, and the NBC series provided Trump with a huge influx of cash while simultaneously rehabilitating his personal brand. NBC positioned Trump as a brilliant business mogul, with Ivanka and Donald Junior by his side, and fans of The Apprentice became his greatest supporters during his presidential campaign.

According to a New Yorker profile of how The Apprentice led to Trump’s presidency, NBC network executives were “enamored of” Trump, and being a typical reality show whose reality is mostly false, each season’s winner was hired for a “Trump Organization job [that] was actually paid for by NBC.” While NBC executives were enamored of Donald Trump, others on staff were appalled. One former Apprentice staffer, Noel Casler, has made a name for himself as an ardent critic of Trump, making public claims that Trump inspected beauty pageant contestants’ mouths with his fingers and pressured them to visit his hotel rooms, that he took Adderall and far more shocking claims via his Twitter account and standup comedy.

“Miss teen universe? That’s like giving Jeffrey Dahmer a cooking show.”

It is curious that executives at NBC would be enamored of Donald Trump while other staffers would be appalled by the same man; however, The Apprentice no doubt generated high profits for the network and its high-level executive employees.

Donald Trump has made significant profits as a direct result of his presidency, ignoring the emoluments clause and using his high office to negotiate profitable self-deals.

It is reasonable to wonder whether NBC executives might have an interest in reviving The Apprentice brand, and this question would seem to present some conflict of interest in offering Donald Trump the platform of all NBC networks to out-compete his presidential rival.

This may not be the primary reason that people are boycotting NBC, but the network’s history of partnering with Trump for profit is worth considering.

NBC executives have been accused of highly unethical conduct through #MeToo revelations.

NBC allegedly killed the Harvey Weinstein story.

Ronan Farrow, known to some people as the heroic catalyst of the social norms-changing #MeToo movement and to some men as a spoiler of a good time, was employed by NBC as an on-air journalist in 2017 when he came across what he felt were credible allegations of sexual assault by film producer Harvey Weinstein. Farrow followed his leads and decided that, yes, the allegations he heard were indeed credible. He spent time investigating the story as part of his job — and then NBC softly told him that the story was not credible and that they would not produce it.

Farrow and his colleague Rich McHugh, claim that NBC News President Noah Oppenheim personally killed the story, telling them to “stand down” and stop investigating.

Oppenheim wrote the screenplay for the feature film Jackie, about the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Farrow writes in his book Catch and Kill that Oppenheim in 2016 courted Harvey Weinstein as a potential distributor of the film. Oppenheim denies the claim.

If Farrow’s claim has any merit, then this presents a clear conflict of interest for the NBC News president who chose to kill the Weinstein expose on the basis of the story not being credible.

Farrow eventually placed the story with The New Yorker, and The New Yorker editors and attorneys, the Pulitzer Prize jury and juries in courts of law have found the allegations against Weinstein credible. In March, Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape and sexual abuse, with a pending trial in Los Angeles for other alleged sexual assaults, facing another potential 140 years of prison time. Had Oppenheim been the last word on Farrow’s story, Weinstein most likely would not have been brought to trial, and the #MeToo movement would not have kicked off as it did.

Why would NBC News’s president claim that Farrow’s reporting was not credible? Either he thought it was not credible based on evidence — curious, given that The New Yorker’s editors and attorneys, the Pulitzer Prize committee and juries and judges disagree — or else there was another reason to which we are not privy.

NBC executives allegedly buried rape allegations against Matt Lauer.

What Oppenheim may have been thinking is unknown; however, many people, including NBC employees who reportedly confronted him, believe that Oppenheim may have played a role in covering up allegations that NBC News star Matt Lauer.

Also in Catch and Kill, Farrow interviews former NBC News employee Brooke Nevils, who alleges that Lauer anally raped her while they were on assignment at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. According to Farrow, “She told colleagues and superiors at NBC…and reported it to one of her new bosses there.”

According to Variety:

Nothing happened until fall 2017, when the post-Harvey Weinstein reckoning led former “Today” colleagues to ask her about Lauer. Nevils told Farrow she then went to Vieira and told her what had happened. A distraught Vieira, according to the book, urged Nevils to go to NBC Universal human resources with a lawyer, which she did. After Lauer’s firing, she learned that Noah Oppenheim, the president of NBC News, and Andrew Lack, the chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, “were emphasizing that the incident hadn’t been ‘criminal’ or an ‘assault’” — which she claims caused her to throw up, Farrow writes.

The book paints NBC News executives as obstructive in his Weinstein investigation. As Farrow amassed his reporting about Weinstein, Oppenheim asked him, “Like, is this really worth it?” and suggested no one knows who Weinstein is. Farrow was eventually told to stop reporting the story, because it was under review at NBC Universal. “This is a Steve Burke decision. It’s an Andy decision,” Farrow recalls Richard Greenberg, the head of NBC News’ investigative unit, telling him. Since he didn’t believe NBC would ever run his story, he took it to the New Yorker, where it was published in October 2017.

Depending on reasons why one chooses to boycott a company, some may consider these factors along with, or even ahead of, the decision by NBC to give over all their platforms to compete with Joe Biden’s earlier-scheduled town hall.

More Than NBC News

NBCUniversal is an enormous corporate conglomerate whose brands span broadcast and cable television, feature films, international and local media and more. Among the specific brands are NBC, NBC News, Telemundo, NBC Sports, MSNBC, CNBC, E! Entertainment, Bravo, Dreamworks, Universal Studios and many more.

One of these brands, Bravo, has been a particular curiosity to me for years. In recent years, the sitcoms Friends (1994–2004) and Sex and the City (1998–2004) have been criticized for whitewashing New York City — showing an unrealistic version of the city in which black and brown people seem not to exist at all. Granted, both shows did this.

Both shows ended over 15 years ago and popular culture has made significant advancements since then — however, one would not know this by watching Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise. The Real Housewives of New York has run on Bravo since 2008, with a rotating cast of that totals 16 women over 12 years. Despite being set in New York City, whose population is only 42 percent white, with over 24 percent being black 15 percent other races and 14 percent Asian American, Bravo has cast exclusively white women to represent the show. One difference between Friends and Real Housewives of New York is that the passing of time has brought on greater sensitivity to racism and diversity, equity and inclusion. Another is that Friends represented a fictionalized version of the world, whereas the Real Housewives purports to represent reality. Black and brown people generally are shown rarely on the series, and when they are shown, they generally are shown to work in service to the fabulous white stars of the series.

But the series’s offenses extend beyond exclusion of nonwhite cast members: Ramona Singer recently referred to hotel staff at a Mexican resort as her “servants,” which the COVID mask-averse Trump supporter ultimately apologized for doing, blaming her age.

LuAnn DeLesseps, aka “The Countess,” thus far has made the most egregious mistake by dressing in blackface for a costume party. Fans of the series demanded her resignation or firing, she apologized, and the show moved on.

The thing about all of this is that, as with all reality television shows, The Real Housewives is a team effort created by writers who presumably dream up plot points, directors who orchestrate and film scenes, editors who choose what footage goes into an episode and what is cut out, and producers and network executives who review each episode prior to airing. Surely someone at this NBC subsidiary network might have thought that blackface in 2018 might have been a problem.

As it turns out, it was not a problem for Bravo or for NBC. The show went on without much fanfare as offended Millennials directly their ire toward television series that have not aired for nearly two decades.

The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills introduced its first black cast member, Garcelle Beauvais, in 2020, a decade after its debut. The Real Housewives of Orange County debuted in 2006, has cycled through 23 cast members, and to date none has been black. White people represent under 48 percent of the population of Southern California, but nearly 100 percent of the Bravo Housewives from that region.

People of color do exist in the Bravo Housewives universe, but they are few and far between, with two exceptions, The Real Housewives of Atlanta and The Real Housewives of Potomac, whose casts are primarily black or mixed race — separate but equal representation, producers might argue.

Still, I can’t get over how Bravo’s television series, as wildly popular as they are among “woke” people, continue to fly under the radar with their exclusive and generally segregated casting. Plus that whole blackface thing.

In light of the #BoycottNBC campaign that was sparked by the network offering its old friend-with-benefits Donald Trump to appropriate its platform to out-broadcast his presidential opponent, I am struck that the network’s behaviors, from covering up incidents of sexual assault wittingly and possibly unwittingly, to its decades-outmoded depictions of all-white New York City and Southern California, are quite Trumplike indeed. It’s no wonder the president and the network have made for good bedfellows.

Washington, D.C.-based professional writer and unprofessional painter with many passions, including health, decency, Earth, asking questions and lots more.

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