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Saturday
Jun062009

GE's Jeffrey Immelt Fights Back

General Electric boss Jeffrey Immelt faced a tough crowd at GE's annual stockholder's meeting in April, and it's just now becoming clear how much he minded.

At the meeting, Project 21 Fellow Deneen Borelli asked if media reports that Immelt had tried to silence anti-Obama reporting on GE-owned networks are true. During her dialogue with Immelt, her microphone was cut off (it was restored after she continued talking anyway).

Then Fox News Channel O'Reilly Factor Producer Jesse Watters, a GE shareholder, asked Immelt about Keith Olbermann's handling of the Janeane Garofalo interview. Watters' microphone was soon cut off as well, but this did Immelt no good, as next up was the National Center for Public Policy Research Free Enterprise Project Director Tom Borelli, who, as I reported here in April, asked Immelt about GE's business with Iran, GE's lobbying for cap-and-trade, and GE's double-hit on senior citizen stockholders [by cutting dividends after saying it wouldn't while lobbying for cap-and-trade regulations that will dramatically raise consumer energy prices].

Following the meeting, in an apparent counterattack against Borelli, false allegations were made that Tom was there as a front for Fox News, which competes with GE-owned MSNBC and CNBC. Tom has no relationship with Fox News except that he appears on the network periodically as a guest and he lent an audiotape he made of the GE shareholder's meeting to Fox, which broadcast it (leading fact-challenged Keith Olbermann to falsely accuse Fox's Jesse Watters of making the perfectly legal tape and lying about it to GE security guards).

So why bring all this up now? Because it seems that GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, whom one would think has better things to do, was so upset that three shareholders -- Deneen Borelli, Jesse Watters and Tom Borelli -- would ask him questions about the GE-owned networks' liberal bias, trade with Iran and lobbying for cap-and-trade that he ordered retaliation against a news media outlet that reported they had done so.

Specifically, the LA Weekly's Nicki Finke's Deadline Hollywood column reported Friday night that after Paul Bond of The Hollywood Reporter wrote a story about the three questions and the shareholder's meeting (a story immediately picked up by the Drudge Report), Immelt immediately ordered a GE-wide ban on Nielsen Business Media, which owns The Hollywood Reporter.

Here's how Nicki Finke of LA Weekly reports it:

That's when, sources inside and outside Nielsen Business Media tell me, GE Chairman Jeff Immelt ordered a GE company-wide ban on all of THR's parent company: advertising, editorial, the works. After a few days, the ban was reduced to GE's NBC Universal against Nielsen Business Media's The Hollywood Reporter and lasted six weeks. (My NBC Universal sources believe the ban was lifted yesterday.)

My reporting is the first about the ban or what led to it. "People need to know that GE is using its media arm to stifle coverage about its company, and this is coming from Immelt and Zucker," a Nielsen Business Media insider said.

Finke adds:
...sources inside and outside Nielsen Business Media tell me, GE Chairman Jeff Immelt personally issued a GE ban on all of the Nielsen company. "Jeff Immelt severed relations between all of GE with all of Nielsen over that story. Immelt called Zucker, and Zucker took it from there. Then, after a few days, GE backtracked, and then it became NBC Universal severing relations with The Hollywood Reporter."

According to my sources, Zucker ordered NBC Universal employees "not to talk" to THR. "They took away passes and tickets," says one insider. Another told me advertising was affected: it appears all or almost all advertising was stopped by NBC Universal at what was and continues to be a very important revenue time for the trade -- just before the Emmy nominations. Still another told me that NBC Universal employees stopped returning THR reporters' calls. One NBC Universal employee actually said to a THR reporter: "I'm not allowed to talk to The Hollywood Reporter."

Only a handful of people within the publication knew about the GE/NBC Universal ban. "It was all very mysterious," one reporter whose calls stopped being returned by NBC Universal told me. "No one told me specifically why. But I think some story really pissed them off."

I don't want to quote all of the Finke column here, so I'll just say GE's retaliation evidently did not stop there. GE reportedly also tried to use its advertising clout to get The Hollywood Reporter journalist, Paul Bond, fired (go to the Finke piece for details).

My conclusion: Never assume the corporate and news executives whose work product is being criticized aren't paying attention. GE's Jeffrey Immelt is one of the most powerful corporate executive in the world. His corporation owns not just MSNBC and CNBC, but the storied NBC itself. Yet despite his lofty position, he not only is paying attention, he's paying close attention, and he apparently doesn't like the criticism one bit.

Maybe someday he'll figure out that if he cleans up his networks and starts running GE like a capitalist firm instead of as a welfare queen-wannabe, he can get the criticism he hates so much to stop.

Note: For video on the story as it originally unfolded, go here for the audio of a Glenn Beck radio interview with Tom Borelli (prepared by Olbermann Watch) and here for video of the story on the Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly Fox News shows, including an interview with talk radio host Laura Ingraham about it.


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