Liberal site ThinkProgress doesn’t approve of David Gregory’s plans for Tuesday. The “Meet the Press” host is listed as the keynote speaker for the Small Business Summit of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).
The problem? NFIB is a player in national politics, with a heavy prejudice against government regulation and in favor of Republicans. Among its initiatives in defense of small business is spearheading a legal challenge of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
NBC talent and an organization like the NFIB don’t mix, contends ThinkProgress: “[A]llowing the NFIB to raise money for its political mission using his name, reputation, and celebrity appears to be at odds with journalistic ethics.”
A few points here:
1) High-profile journos love these appearances: In recent weeks alone, we’ve seen how Gwen Ifill emceed an event of the Whitman-Walker Health clinic, at which Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was feted. Then there was Luke Russert’s mastering the ceremonies for an event sponsored by the The Recording Academy and co-sponsored by the Recording Industry Association of America, a group with manifest interests in Washington politics. Nothing like a nice, live audience of notables to feed the egos of America’s big-name journalists.
2) Audiences love high-profile journos. Even the lamest little anecdotes about behind-the-scenes Washington justify the prices of admission for keynoters like Russert, Ifill and Gregory. What did Newt say to his aide in the green room? Does Romney fidget during commercial breaks? It’s easy, guffaw-producing material.
3) Cash corrupts. There’s one key question for any journalist that speaks in front of an industry group: You getting paid? In this case, says an NBC spokesperson, Gregory was “not compensated” for his remarks. The absence of cash takes a great deal of the stuffing out of the argument for any sort of ethical malpractice here. So long as Gregory speaks for free to other groups over the course of his career, the potential for abuse and favor-trading behind a no-fee appearance is not the occasion to wag the Erik Wemple Blog Ethical Scolding Finger.
4) Talk, NBC! When Paul Farhi approached Russert about his master-of-ceremonies gig with the recording people, this is what happened: “Russert declined Thursday to comment on his involvement in the music-industry event. He referred a reporter’s call to MSNBC spokeswoman Lauren Skowronski, who said Russert’s participation ‘was within the NBC News standard.’”
I asked NBC a few questions about the Gregory commitment and received this response: “David finds it constructive to speak to and take questions from a variety of audiences. He was not compensated.” If all of this is so, okay then, don’t react as if you’re addressing the issuance of an indictment against your star anchor. Officiousness suggests defensiveness.