Comcast CEO Declines to Deny it Runs MSNBC Not for Ratings and Profits, But to Open Doors for Comcast With Liberal Elected Officials

This Explains Why Comcast Accepts Dismal MSNBC Ratings and Gears Programming Toward Only 24% of the Population

Washington, D.C. – At today’s annual meeting of Comcast shareholders, Comcast executives dodged questions from the National Center for Public Research regarding the company’s bizarre business model for MSNBC, which caters to liberals, 24% of the U.S. population, while demonizing conservatives, 37% of the population.

But the executives’ most revealing moment may be in what they declined to say: They declined to deny that Comcast really runs MSNBC to keep the corporation in the good graces of liberal elected officials.

At the meeting, Jennifer Biddison, the digital media specialist at the National Center for Public Policy Research, asked, in part:

Saying “CNN… was a little too liberal,” CNN’s President Jeff Zucker put more conservatives on CNN.

CNN doubled its audience in the key 24-54 demographic and the Wall Street Journal says CNN is “…nipping at the heels of Fox News… and is roughly doubling the audience of MSNBC, the weakest of the three…”.

MSNBC caters to liberals, at 24% the smallest ideological demographic.

As this makes no sense, I ask you: Is Comcast is using MSNBC and its loyalty to the Obama Administration and other liberal elected officials as a lobbying tool? Is this lobbying tool worth the cost to shareholders of being a distant third in the ratings?

For years we attended this shareholder meeting in person, and now by computer since you cancelled face-to-face interactions with your shareholders, asking why Comcast aims so low with MSNBC. You always duck the question. We tell you now: If you do not deny that your strategy with MSNBC is a lobbying one, we are going to publish a press release saying Comcast’s management refuses to deny that the entire point of MSNBC’s existence is to promote Comcast’s lobbying efforts.

The full text of Biddison’s question at the Comcast meeting, as prepared for delivery, can be found here.

Jennifer Biddison“In this tumultuous political year, the highest-ranking television networks are the ones that aren’t vilifying conservatives,” said Biddison. “Even if a network’s leaders personally have liberal leanings, it is important that they find innovative ways to reach viewers across the entire political spectrum. Otherwise their network’s ratings will tank, as we have seen this past year with MSNBC in particular. If Comcast wants to save MSNBC, it should rebrand its acronym to ‘My Station Nixes Biased Coverage.'”

Comcast’s executives ducked Biddison’s question, touting MSNBC’s perceived success instead. Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian L. Roberts answered simply, “Under Andy Lack’s leadership, who is the President of NBC News, who joined us in the last year or so, I think MSNBC has made terrific improvements in ratings and continues to have a wonderful roadmap ahead.”

The reading of Biddison’s question, in addition to Roberts’s response, can be heard here.

“We told Comcast’s CEO point-blank that if he did not deny that the purpose of MSNBC, from Comcast’s point of view, is to make liberal elected officials and other policymakers feel good about Comcast, essentially a very informal form of lobbying, that we would issue a press release saying you refused to deny this. And he did refuse to deny it when he could easily have done so,” said Amy Ridenour, chairman of the National Center for Public Policy Research.

“Mr. Roberts’ silence may speak volumes. Comcast apparently has been putting up with MSNBC’s dismal ratings all these years because the very fact that Comcast owns MSNBC opens doors for it, figuratively but probably also literally, with liberal elected officials and their staff members, such as those at the White House, but also in liberal policymaking offices all across the land,” continued Ridenour. “Just as businesses and unions make campaign contributions in the hope of being able to get face time with elected officials, Comcast may be running a TV network for much the same purpose.”

“What an irony,” Ridenour continued, “that the anti-capitalist message of so much of the on-air ‘talent’ at MSNBC is merely a front for an extremely sophisticated form of pro-business grassroots lobbying.”

“This is perfectly legal,” concluded Ridenour, “but so ironic. If Comcast is running MSNBC to keep the Obama Administration and its allies on its good side, people such as Rachel Maddow are actually a new form of lobbyist, not journalists. Put a pin in that for a second.”

For years, representatives of the National Center’s Free Enterprise Project have attended Comcast’s meeting in person and quizzed company executives about its strange strategy of catering to less than one-fourth of the American people, and its willingness to let the on-air personnel at MSNBC make outlandishly inaccurate statements without requiring corrections, even to the point of exposing Comcast to potential libel lawsuits. (See here, here and here for more information about some of these meetings.)

Biddison attended today’s meeting on behalf of National Center Chairman Amy Ridenour, who is a Comcast shareholder.

In her question, Biddison referenced CNN’s recent rating success that stems from a very deliberate business decision to try to balance the network ideologically after years of skewing left. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, CNN President Jeff Zucker stated: “I think it was a legitimate criticism of CNN that it was a little too liberal. We have added many more middle-of-the-road conservative voices to an already strong stable of liberal voices. And I think that we are a much more-balanced network and, as a result, a much more inviting network to a segment of the audience that might not have otherwise been willing to come here.”

CNN’s decision to try to balance its programming follows years of pressure from many, including the National Center’s Free Enterprise Project, over the company’s liberal bias. The National Center’s Free Enterprise Project Director Justin Danhof, Esq. questioned Time Warner (CNN’s parent company) CEO Jeffrey Bewkes in 2013 and 2014 about the company’s liberal bias and urged CNN to try to achieve more balance and objectivity. For more about those confrontations, see here and here.

“We are living in a time when only six percent of Americans trust the media,” said Danhof. “Networks such as MSNBC deserve a fair share of blame for this. MSNBC is not a platform for news. It is an outlet for liberals who wish to hear talking heads regurgitate and affirm their leftist beliefs. CNN’s leadership was willing to accept criticism that this was a flawed business model. By adding conservative commentators, that network has added to its bottom line and has done right by its investors. Comcast continues to do a disservice to its investors who suffer right along with MSNBC’s abysmal ratings. The fact that the company’s executives couldn’t be bothered to honestly answer a simple question about MSNBC’s poor performance speaks volumes.”

Earlier this year, Danhof questioned Disney CEO Bob Iger over the liberal bias on Disney’s media platforms, ABC and Disney. Incredibly, Iger defended his company’s news stations and denied any bias. Danhof’s confrontation with Iger was detailed in a Hollywood Reporter article that was prominently featured on the Drudge Report.

The National Center’s Free Enterprise Project is the nation’s preeminent free-market activist group focusing on shareholder activism and the confluence of big government and big business. In 2014-15, National Center representatives participated in 69 shareholder meetings advancing free-market ideals in the areas of health care, energy, taxes, subsidies, regulations, religious freedom, food policies, media bias, gun rights, workers’ rights and many other important public policy issues. Today’s Comcast meeting marks its twelfth shareholder meeting of 2016.

The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from individuals, less than four percent from foundations, and less than two percent from corporations. It receives over 350,000 individual contributions a year from over 96,000 active recent contributors. Sign up for free issue alerts here or follow us on Twitter at @NationalCenter.


The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.