MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle doesn’t promote banks when she’s anchoring for the cable network. But on the Internet, it may be a different story.
The clip was a short promotional spot for a longer promotional spot — a six-minute, Chase-sponsored discussion about personal finance. Ruhle is among several well-known personalities, including tennis star and Chase endorser Serena Williams, who have been interviewed for the infomercial-like series.
In her segment, Ruhle — who is also the senior business correspondent for NBC News — offers generic, bank-friendly advice, all of it framed by Chase’s logo, in a conversation with ESPN analyst and NBA alumnus Jay Williams. “Saving is always the answer,” she says. “Please save as much as you can. And plan ahead.”
Ruhle isn’t a paid endorser for Chase, but her association with the bank raises questions about potential conflicts of interest. Most news organizations prohibit their journalists from any activity that might be construed as promoting a person, institution or entity they cover. The rule is aimed at preserving a news organization’s neutrality and countering any suggestion that a reporter has a vested interest in those he or she covers.
In Ruhle’s case, the questions are more than theoretical. In August, the MSNBC host conducted a lengthy interview on the network with Chase’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, about JPMorgan Chase’s initiative to hire minority workers.
Asked for comment on Tuesday, Ruhle denied any involvement with the financial company. “I’m not doing any work on behalf of Chase Bank,” she said. “I don’t know what you are referring to.” She referred questions to an MSNBC spokesperson.
Ruhle herself highlighted her involvement with Chase via Twitter last month: “I sat down with @Chase and @realjaywilliams to chat about planning for life’s unpredictable moments . . . something many of us are experiencing right now. Tune in to see the full conversation — you won’t want to miss it.”
People at the network noted that she wasn’t paid for her appearance nor did she explicitly endorse Chase in the webcast. But MSNBC spokesman Errol Cockfield declined to say whether MSNBC’s management had approved Ruhle’s work for Chase.
Shortly after receiving inquiries from The Washington Post late Tuesday and early Wednesday, MSNBC asked Chase to take down its videos of Ruhle on its Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds. Chase said it agreed to do so.
“As is a common practice for journalists, Stephanie participated in an interview as a subject matter expert,” said Cockfield in a statement. “The issue was not the interview, but the way Chase promoted and framed it across social media. Chase has since recognized and corrected their mistake.”
Still, some of the posts remained on Chase’s feeds as of late Wednesday afternoon.
One such promotion on Twitter reads, “We’re teaming up with Stephanie Ruhle and Jay Williams to chat about planning for life’s unpredictable moments. Click below to watch the full conversation on-demand — you won’t want to miss it.” The promo includes a brief video of Ruhle saying she’s “looking forward” to the webcast.
In the now-removed webcast featuring Ruhle, called “The Power of a Plan: Budgeting for Unpredictability,” Williams introduces Ruhle as “a TV anchor and correspondent but also so much more.”
The closest to an overt pitch is an indirect one at the end of the video when Williams says, “Remember, financial health starts with making a plan. So make sure you schedule some time with your banker today and start strategizing.”
Chase apparently doesn’t see it that way. “These posts raised awareness for educational content featuring an expert on financial health,” Trish Wexler, a Chase spokeswoman, said in a statement.
“She was not paid for this financial literacy content. It was our mistake to promote it.”
Ruhle’s involvement with Chase “is not kosher, and it’s exceedingly unusual,” said Mark Feldstein, a former network TV correspondent who is now a journalism professor at the University of Maryland. He said her participation in a corporate public-relations campaign “undercuts her impartiality and independence. She’s effectively using her fame and journalistic credibility to promote a corporation she covers. Is her first loyalty to the public or to Chase?”
Ruhle, he said, may have given viewers reason to doubt her loyalties with the juxtaposition of the webcast and her MSNBC interview with Dimon a month earlier. “Did he recruit her for the ad while she was interviewing him,” Feldstein asked. “Did she decide to interview him after cutting a deal to make the ad? Either way, it smells fishy.”
For the record, Chase said the Dimon interview was unrelated to the corporate webcast.