When I picked up a ringing phone one morning in mid-December, the next thing I knew a producer was inviting me to appear on Glenn Beck’s TV show.
Beck has become a national phenom with his nightly hour of polemics on CNN Headline News -- urging war on Iran, denouncing “political correctness” at home, trashing immigrants who don’t speak English, mocking environmentalists as repressive zealots, and generally trying to denigrate progressive outlooks.
Our segment, the producer said, would focus on a recent NBC news report praising the virtues of energy-efficient LED light bulbs without acknowledging that the network’s parent company, General Electric, sells them. I figured it was a safe bet that Beck’s enthusiasm for full disclosure from media would be selective.
A few hours later, I was staring into a camera lens at the CNN bureau in San Francisco while Beck launched into his opening. What had occurred on the “NBC Nightly News,” he explained, “was at best a major breach of journalistic integrity.” And he pointed out: “The problem isn’t what NBC is promoting. It’s what they’re not disclosing.”
A minute later, Beck asked his first question: “Norman, you agree with me that they should have disclosed this?” The unedited transcript tells what happened next.
Solomon: “It’s a big problem when there’s not disclosure. I’m glad you opened this up. And I wouldn’t want any viewers of this program to be left with the impression that somehow General Electric is an environmentally conscious company.
“On the contrary, they have a 30-year history of refusing and actually fighting against efforts to make them clean up the Hudson River, which GE fouled with terrible quantities of horrific PCBs, other rivers as well. People told they can’t fish in the Hudson River. General Electric still lobbying to not have to clean up.
“General Electric, even today -- and this report is very timely -- General Electric is lobbying to get Congress to pass $18 billion in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees for a huge GE product which is General Electric components for nuclear power plants. So we should not be fooled in any way by efforts to greenwash General Electric or any other company.”
Beck: “You know what’s amazing to me? GE has a bigger budget for -- special interest budget than all of the oil companies combined, and yet nobody says anything. Let me reverse this.
“Norman, do you think if I got on as somebody who says I don’t know what we can do about global warming, I’m not sure man causes it, and I certainly don’t want to have laws and regulations on this, if I got on and said that but I was being -- my corporate -- my corporate parent was Exxon Mobil, do you think I’d get away with that for a second without that being on the front page of the New York Times?”
Solomon: “Well, other networks, including General Electric’s NBC, have been very slow on global warming. And in fact, General Electric has major interest in components and products used by the oil and gas industry.
“I think if you look across the board, all the major networks, even so-called public broadcasting, which has Chevron underwriting its ‘Washington Week’ program every Friday, there is a problem, as you say. I think your words are very apt, ‘promoting’ but ‘not disclosing.’
“But let’s be clear about this, Glenn. I have a list here, for instance, that I jotted down.
“ABC, owned by Disney. ABC doesn’t disclose in their relevant news reports about Disney’s stake in sweatshops.
“Fox News -- and now as of the last couple of days now, Wall Street Journal owned by the same entity, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp -- they don’t disclose that the ownership is entangled with the Chinese government to the detriment of human rights but to the advancement of the profit margin of the parent company.”
Beck: “See --”
Solomon: “We would be remiss, Glenn, if we left out CNN, because CNN has a huge multi, multibillion-dollar stake in Internet deregulation and the failure of the Congress to safeguard so far what would be called net neutrality. So every time CNN does a news report on the Internet, on efforts to regulate or deregulate or create a two- or three-tier system of the Internet, CNN News should disclose that Time Warner, the parent company, stands to gain or lose billions of dollars in those terms.
“And one more thing.”
Beck: “Real quick.”
Solomon: “A major -- a major advertiser for CNN is the largest military contractor in the United States, Lockheed Martin. So when you and others --”
Beck: “I got news for you, Norman. Norman --”
Solomon: “-- promote war -- when you and others promote war on this network --”
Beck: “Norman -- Norman --”
Solomon: “-- we have Lockheed Martin paying millions of dollars undisclosed. So I would quote you --”
Beck: “Norman -- Norman --”
Solomon: “Promoting but not disclosing is a bad way to go.”
Beck: “Norman, let me just tell you this. First of all, Lockheed Martin is not a -- not a corporate overlord of this program.”
Solomon: “It’s a major advertiser on CNN.”
Beck: “That’s fine. That’s fine. Advertisers are different. But let --”
Solomon: “Well, it is fine, but it should be disclosed.”
Beck: “Norman, let me just tell you something. If you think that it’s warmonger central downstairs at CNN, you’re out of your mind. But that’s a different story.”
Solomon: “Well, upstairs, when I watch Glenn Beck, in terms of attacking Iran, it certainly is. It’s lucrative for the oil companies, as well as for the major advertiser on CNN, Lockheed Martin.”
Beck: “But we’re not talking about advertisers. We are talking about --”
Solomon: “Well, you don’t want to talk about it. So let’s talk about the Internet stake.”
Beck: “No, no, no. Norman --”
Solomon: “Let’s talk about the Internet stake that the owners of CNN have. Huge profits to be made or lost by the parent company of CNN depending on what happens in Washington in terms of Internet regulation.”
Beck: “Norman, let me tell you something.”
Solomon: “That should be acknowledged, don’t you think?”
Beck: “Absolutely. And if it was on this program, it would be acknowledged.
“I thank you very much for your time.
“That just goes to show you, you’ve got to beware of everybody who you’re getting your news from. Wouldn’t it be nice if once in a while somebody came on and said, you know, I don’t really have an agenda except the truth? It’s my truth. If you don’t like it, you should go someplace else.”
During the back-and-forth, I’d understated the present-day role of Chevron as a funder of key news programming on PBS. Actually the Chevron Corporation, which signed on as an underwriter of “Washington Week” last year, no longer helps pay the piper there -- but the massive energy firm does currently funnel big bucks to the most influential show on PBS, the nightly “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.”
The corporate funders of the “NewsHour” now include not only Chevron but also AT&T and Pacific Life. There must be dozens of journalistic reports on the program every week -- whether relevant to the business worlds of energy, communications or insurance -- that warrant, and lack, real-time disclosures while the news accounts are on the air. Meanwhile, over at “Washington Week,” the corporate cash now flows in from the huge military contractor Boeing and the National Mining Association.
And that’s just “public broadcasting.” On avowedly commercial networks, awash in corporate ownership interests and advertising revenues, a thorough policy of disclosure in the course of news coverage would require that most of the airtime be devoted to shedding light on the media outlet conflicts-of-interest of the reporting in progress.
And what about Glenn Beck? The guy is another in a long line of demagogues riding a bull market for pseudo-populism. Brought to you by too many corporate interests to name.