NBC News Standards and Practices Editor Concedes Koch Segment “not a reflection of normal procedure at MSNBC.”
June 10, 2011
Ms. Yvette Miley
Dear Ms. Miley:
We were contacted Monday by one of your producers, Jesse Rodriguez, who indicated that MSNBC would be “running a story” about Koch Industries that afternoon and requesting comment. Although we did provide an on-the-record comment, it turned out that Mr. Rodriguez misrepresented the nature of the piece that was actually broadcast.
In fact, it wasn’t a news story at all. Rather it was a panel segment that featured a political advocate from the Center for American Progress as the primary guest. What’s more, the segment was hosted by a senior fellow on the CAP payroll, Matt Miller. CAP, as you probably know, is actively engaged in a public campaign of political advocacy explicitly aimed in part at Koch Industries.
But Mr. Rodriguez withheld those particulars from us in his note, which I have copied in full below. Had he been forthright about what MSNBC intended, we would have pointed out CAP’s agenda for the record. I should note that, although Mr. Miller cited his affiliation with CAP, that disclosure was meaningless since viewers were not told anything specific about CAP’s obvious conflict of interest regarding us in the analysis that followed.
We also pointed out to Mr. Rodriguez that the original “story” that CAP published was widely debunked by a number of respected economic experts when it first appeared, a fact that was ignored on the air. (You can find some of these countering arguments here, and here.) And finally, we stated that it was “unfortunate that MSNBC relies on and gives a platform to a discredited and ridiculed blog post by a partisan political advocacy group.” Mr. Rodriguez edited all of this from the statement that was read on air.
I am writing both to object to Mr. Rodriguez’s approach and to ask if his conduct here comports with MSNBC’s news standards. If so, it’s hard to see how we can distinguish in the future between requests from MSNBC for input on legitimate news stories and activist-driven debate sessions. I’d also like to ask how MSNBC justifies having paid political advocates like Mr. Miller host segments that purport to objectively analyze subjects about which his advocacy group is actively campaigning?
Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC
John Reiss, Executive Producer, Politics
From: Rodriguez, Jesse (NBCUniversal)
Sent: Monday, May 23, 2011 10:34 AM
To: Cohlmia, Missy;
Subject: Request for comment
I am a producer for msnbc’s The Dylan Ratigan Show airing at 4pm ET.
We are running a story today about the ThinkProgress.org report about Koch Industries (see below).
Do you have a response to this story? Thank you.
HOW KOCH INDUSTRIES MANIPULATES THE OIL MARKET FOR PROFIT:In recent weeks, gas prices around the country have surged to levels unseen since the 2008 oil spike. However, market fundamentals are not driving the nearly $4.00/gallon gas prices. In fact, under the Obama administration, oil production is at record highs and there is adequate global supply of crude. As Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) commissioner Bart Chilton has explained, rampant oil speculation, which is at its highest level on record right now, is to blame for current prices.
A week later, Marian Porges, Senior Producer for News Standards and Practices at NBC News conceded “this incident is not a reflection of normal procedure at MSNBC”
Dear Ms. Cohlmia:
Again, thank you for your email and for expressing your concerns. You are certainly correct that what aired was a panel discussion, not a news segment. Mr. Rodriguez should have described more adequately the context of how the story on Koch Industries would be used on the air. Although we did not cite examples of the “debunking” of Mr. Fang’s article, we did have a guest in the segment to dispute some of the premises of the article. As sometimes happens in live television, the conversation took off with gusto and not everybody had adequate time.
I will speak to Mr. Rodriguez about his part in this matter.
I hope you understand that this incident is not a reflection of normal procedure at MSNBC.
I am forwarding your email to the President of MSNBC to address your concern regarding the use of Mr. Miller as a host.
Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.