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.
“If you don’t think this is wrong, then here’s what I would challenge them to do,” Smith told The Mirror in a phone interview. “I would challenge them to look into the camera and say, ‘I attended this group’s convention and they paid me $45,000.’ If you revealed that information to the public, what do you think the public would think of the objectivity of their reporting? You don’t tell them, that suggests to me that you are doing something unethical. There’s an old adage: ‘It’s not the gift that’s the problem, it’s the expectations attached to it.’ He gets paid handsomely, and in return, he gets to invite them on his show and never reveals to the public that there is a quid pro quo taking place.”
We await a response from Scarborough and MSNBC.
A selection of Joe Scarborough’s speaking engagements:
-November 2013, Association of American Medical Colleges Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, Pa.
-October 2013, Turnaround Management Association, Chicago, Ill.
-September 2013, Association of Washington Business Summit, Olympia, Wash.
-September 2013, National Beer Wholesalers Association, Las Vegas, Nev.
-May 2013, United Fresh, San Diego, Calif.
-April 2013, STS Congressional Summit | Destination Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.
-March 2013, 2013 Palm Beach Civic Association, Palm Beach, Fla.
-January 2013, New York Banker’s Association Economic Forum, N.Y.
-November 2012, Law Firm Leaders Forum, San Francisco, Calif.
-November 2012, U.S. Green Building Council, San Francisco, Calif.
-October 2012, National Community Pharmacists Association, San Diego, Calif.
-June 2012, Carver Foundation of Norwalk, Darien, Conn.
-May 2012, Atlantic Council, New York City, N.Y.
-March 2012, Bryant University, Smithfield, R.I.
-June 2011, Women’s Day at Traveler’s Championship, Cromwell, Conn.
-January 2011, New Jersey Hospital Association, Princeton, N.J.
-October 2010, CFO Rising West Conference, Las Vegas, Nev.
-March 2010, Bank Insurance and Securities Association, Fla.
-February 2010, Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Topeka, Kan.
-October 2009, Business Council of Westchester County, Rye Brook, N.Y.