At NBC, there’s a rule that if anchors give a paid speech to a for-profit enterprise — the kind they may be covering in their role as journalists — they have to give the money they receive to charity. It’s not a secret rule. It’s been in place for nearly 20 years to prevent conflicts of interest. Everybody knows about it. But is everyone following it?
How about Joe Scarborough?
According to a well-placed source at MSNBC, the “Morning Joe” co-host may have been pocketing the proceeds from some of his many highly paid speeches, in direct violation of network policy. That’s what some of his co-workers suspect anyway, and they’re resentful about it.
There’s no doubt Joe has been doing a lot of speaking lately. He is repped by William Morris Endeavor chief (and Entourage prototype) Ari Emanuel, and exclusive to the Leading Authorities speakers bureau in Washington. The details — and fee structures — are all over the web: If Joe speaks east of the Mississippi, he gets $51,000, swanky hotel not included. For a trip to the West Coast, the fee jumps to $56,000, again hotel not included. When he speaks in New York, Joe doesn’t need a hotel, since he already works there, but he still makes $45,500. Not bad for an hour of talking. His co-host Mika Brzezinski frequently joins him on stage.
That kind of money could make a host pretty sympathetic to the people who are paying him, some of whom might wind up in the news some day. You can see why the networks are concerned about conflicts. NBC laid down its policy in 1996, when it banned employees from accepting money from corporations and trade associations that lobby government or take public positions on issues. All paid appearances must be approved by management.
Does Joe follow these rules? The Daily Caller‘s Mirror blog reached out to Scarborough, as well as to MSNBC’s PR department with that question. Does Joe give the money to charity or keep it for himself? If he’s following NBC policy, could we see the relevant portion of his tax return? But they ignored us. Neither even responded.
They may have to respond in coming days. Spend just 10 minutes on Google and all kinds of questions about Joe’s speaking career arise. For example, is there a connection between paying Joe for a speech, and appearing as a guest on his show?
You decide. In late May of 2013, Joe and Mika gave what appears to be a paid speech at a conference sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce. Exactly three months later, the Detroit chamber’s CEO, Sandy Baruah, appeared as a guest on “Morning Joe.” The show was broadcast live from the factory floor of one of the chamber’s most important member companies, Ford Motors. The discussion topic: What can Detroit do to earn more government bailout money?
Not surprisingly, the Detroit Chamber was ecstatic. Last year it published a story about Joe and Mika in Detroiter Magazine, its glossy newsletter. The profile was … how to put it? Flattering? Fawning? Hagiographic? Nope. Those adjectives fall short. More like a North Korean news agency press release on Adderall. Totally and utterly over the top. Fanboy stuff.Joe and the Detroit Chamber clearly like each other. And now many in Joe’s audience may also have warm feelings about the Detroit Chamber, since they’ve seen it promoted on his show.
Is any of this unethical? As long as MSNBC continues to ignore the question, it’s impossible to know for sure. But at least one observer is alarmed. Kevin Smith is the chairman of the ethics committee at the Society of Professional Journalists. He’s been monitoring this issue for 20 years. Smith found Scarborough’s apparent relationship with the Detroit Chamber stunning