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While late night hosts offer support for Black Lives Matter, their parent companies spend against it.
A brief look at the major networks' campaign donations.
Hey: send me a receipt for a new donation of any amount, for instance to these bail funds or this fund for Robert Fuller’s family or this fund for Bella Eiko or any other recipient of your choosing, and I’ll either a) add a free month to your subscription, or b) give you a month free if you’re not subscribed already. Thanks!
I thought I might follow Judd Legum’s lead and see how late night’s messaging on Black Lives Matter and police violence lines up with the major networks’ campaign donations. What I found will very possibly meet your expectations to a tee.
As it turns out, the networks’ parent companies have given generously this election cycle to lawmakers rated “F” by the NAACP. An “F” rating means the Member of Congress or Senator voted per the NAACP’s recommendations on civil rights legislation less than 60% of the time. The NAACP last published its Civil Rights Federal Legislative Report Card, a catalogue of key civil rights votes, in February 2018, the middle of the 115th Congress.
The Report Card includes legislation like HJ Res. 42, which sought to limit states' power to drug-test unemployment insurance applicants. The NAACP opposed the resolution, which ultimately passed. It also includes Senate Vote #221, on a Bernie Sanders-penned budget amendment that would increase federal contributions to health programs like Medicaid and CHIP. The NAACP supported the amendment, which was defeated.
It should not be surprising that massive media conglomerates give thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars to lawmakers voting against civil rights legislation. But it is worth bearing in mind as we watch comedians like Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, and John Oliver inveigh against systemic racism and its architects in the GOP. While they are not directly accountable for their companies’ political spending, they give those companies progressive credentials that mask the bankrolling of racist legislation. If they wish to dismantle systems of oppression, at some point they’ll have to address the systems they’re complicit in. Change starts at home.
Let’s look at the numbers.
AT&T gave $716,000 to “F”-rated politicians
This week Full Frontal and Last Week Tonight put out powerful episodes arguing for the defunding of police departments. “We have to change the infrastructure of police and justice in this country," Samantha Bee said. "We can’t only keep responding with the same weak incremental tweaks." As for John Oliver: “Ours is a firmly entrenched system in which the roots of white supremacy run deep, and it is critical that we all grab a fucking shovel. To do anything less would be absolutely unforgivable”
Here’s how deep the roots run at AT&T, which owns TBS and HBO. According to FEC records, in this election cycle the telecom giant has given $716,000, through its corporate PAC, to lawmakers rated “F” by the NAACP. That includes 137 House members, most of whom the NAACP scored in the single digits, and 39 Senators.
AT&T has also given $810,000 to GOP-aligned PACs and party committees, including $120,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to elect Republican Senators. It bankrolled House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's fundraising committee to the tune of $70,000, and gave $45,000 each to an NRSC-aligned PAC and the Republican National Committee.
Meanwhile AT&T’s public-facing accounts proclaim its “advocacy toward equality and inclusivity”—
—while WarnerMedia, the company between the networks and AT&T, announced it would spend $500,000 on its “content innovation program” to “seed issue-focused creative ideas.” In its press release, Warner lamented, “We write checks and yet racial injustice persists.” Funny how that works.
NBCUniversal gave $701,000 to “F”-rated politicians
After Jimmy Fallon tweeted an apology for his use of blackface 20 years ago, he followed up with a statement that “Things must change” and “Everyone of us needs to be the change for good.” In his first episode after the controversy, he interviewed NAACP president Derrick Johnson, whom he asked for more information about the "buzzword" he's been seeing on Twitter, "anti-racist." Elsewhere on NBC, Seth Meyers harshly criticized the response to Black Lives Matter protests by Trump and the GOP.
Their words pale in comparison to their parent company’s spending. In the 2020 election cycle, Comcast and NBCUniversal’s PAC has donated $701,000 to lawmakers rated "F" by the NAACP: $579,000 to 120 House candidates, $122,000 to 21 Senate candidates. Like AT&T, most of its donations in the House are to members who received a single-digit score from the NAACP. The highest-scoring Senator, Susan Collins, won an impressive 28%.
As for PACs—oh boy. Comcast/NBCUniversal has given $863,000 to GOP-aligned PACs and party committees, including a whopping $210,000 to the RNC. For contrast, it has given nothing to the Democratic National Committee, and $30,000 apiece to Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Clearly Comcast/NBCUniversal has an interest in the sustained rule of the anti-civil rights party. You wouldn’t know this from Comcast’s public statements, such as this commitment to spend $100 million on… itself? Some unspecified small businesses and “organizations”? A bunch of buzzwords like “accelerating” anti-bias training and “shedding light on inequality”?
Then there’s NBCUniversal, which went the cheaper route of declaring its outrage at acts of racism:
To be clear: If Comcast and NBCUniversal spend millions on meaningful initiatives to combat racism in its company and communities, great! That’s good and laudable (and something they should have been doing already). Still, their political spending puts a low ceiling on the difference that work can make. Anti-racism isn’t just a matter of deepening investments, amplifying voices, and accelerating training. It’s about dismantling the racist power structures that warrant those efforts in the first place. You don’t get credit for funding justice somewhere if you also fund injustice everywhere.
And the rest!
That’s it for the big spenders. So long as we’re here, though…
On Monday, June 1st, all of ViacomCBS’s entertainment and youth brands and platforms—a string of words that includes CBS and Comedy Central—went dark for eight minutes and 46 seconds to honor George Floyd “and other victims of racism.” Chris McCarthy, the company’s president of that string of words, said in a memo that “we must all do our part” to fight systemic racism, and committed his division to the following actions:
Use our platforms to shine a light on the realities of racial injustice and call for equality.
This morning, we made the following statements across our brands and platforms.
We stand with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and call for the end of systemic racism. These racist and brutal attacks must end. We call for justice.
Amplify the voices of the communities we serve and provide a call to action for change.
Tomorrow, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, we will go dark across our brands and platforms to mark the time in which George Floyd was brutally killed as a tribute to Mr. Floyd and other victims of racism. We will provide a call to action encouraging our audiences to get involved and help be part of the solution with our partner Color of Change.
Foster a culture that deeply values and respects diversity and inclusion.
On Tuesday, we are joining Black Out Tuesday, to focus our attention away from work and towards our community. We will not hold any meetings nor conduct any business – rather we will stand in solidarity with our African American colleagues and loved ones across the country.
Over at the entertainment and youth brands and platforms themselves, Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah called for legislation to address police violence, held thoughtful discussions on the future of policing, and even recommended skepticism toward companies that put out press releases in support of Black Lives Matter without using their influence in state governments and DC:
As for James Corden, he, I don’t know, told people to read books and sign petitions.
FEC records show donations from two ViacomCBS-affiliated PACs: the ViacomCBS Inc. PAC and the CBS Corporation PAC. For the reader’s pleasure and ease I will discuss the PACs’ combined donations: a total of $87,500 to 30 “F”-rated House candidates and 12 Senate candidates.
The largest of these donations was $6,000 to Greg Walden, an Oregon representative who voted to repeal an Obama-era executive order requiring companies bidding for federal contracts to reveal whether they've been found guilty of violating nondiscrimination laws in the previous three years. The second-largest was a $5,000 donation to Georgia representative and Senate candidate Doug Collins, who in 2019 voted against a bill to expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Then there’s ABC, where Jimmy Kimmel has used his monologue to mock Trump, unpack white privilege, commend protestors, and condemn police violence. The network’s parent company, Disney, recently pledged a sum of $5 million to “nonprofit organizations that advance social justice,” including $2 million to the NAACP.
If Disney wants to make that donation count, it might consider a second look at its spending on candidates who vote against the NAACP. So far in 2020 the company’s PAC has given $21,000 to 13 “F”-rated House candidates and $15,000 to seven “F”-rated Senate candidates, as well as $55,000 to GOP-aligned PACs and party committees. One of its recipients is a PAC associated with Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, who the other day declared his opposition to defunding police departments.
Other than that—great work, Disney! Now, do go ahead and pay your employees.