Lawrence O’Donnell has a long history with NBC, as a producer and writer for The West Wing and now as host of an MSNBC talk show.That hasn’t stopped him from biting the corporate hand that feeds him. Twice in recent weeks he has unloaded on the network and its owner in rather strong terms.When the New York Times reported that General Electric, part owner of NBC, had paid no income tax for 2010, the Last Word host devoted a segment to what he called a “shocking tax return.” After all, he said, the corporate giant had earned $5.1 billion in the United States. The onetime staffer for the Senate Finance Committee blamed the proliferation of tax loopholes secured by corporate lobbyists: “Perhaps GE’s outrageous legal tax return will once again provoke a move for real tax reform in Washington.”
This week, O’Donnell ripped into Donald Trump—he’s got some company there—but laid the blame on his network (which of course carries Celebrity Apprentice). “He is now NBC’s Charlie Sheen,” O’Donnell declared, “the greatest individual embarrassment in the history of the network.” He went on to assail Trump’s “venomous, poisonous, hateful attacks” on President Obama.
It’s inevitable, in this era of corporate mega-ownership, that journalists come face to face with stories in which their employers are involved. Fox News, for instance, talks about the possible presidential candidacies of Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee while they remain on the payroll (although the network did boot Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum when they took concrete steps toward a White House run). NBC Nightly News failed the test by failing to report the GE tax shocker, picking up the story days later after substantial criticism.
O’Donnell, for one, has now served notice that he doesn’t consider NBC off-limits.