03/15/2006 10:44 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Rick Kaplan and NBC's Ethics Problem

For a few months, a few of us progressive bloggers have been running a site called Open Letter to Chris Matthews site. We started it because we were fed up with the constant right-wing talking points coming from Hardball's host. It's been a pretty interesting ride so far, and what we've found out is quite interesting.

You see, last week, we released this report on Chris Matthews and his outside speaking appearances, including appearances before several lobbying groups. What we couldn't confirm at the time was the official NBC ethics policy regarding acceptance of outside speaking fees (we asked NBC repeatedly, but got no answer), and whether Matthews actually took money from these lobbying associations.

It was possible, for instance, that Matthews spoke as the keynote speaker at the International Franchise Association's "2004 Franchise Appreciation Day" for free. Maybe their agenda of 'overtime reform' and ending the estate tax, as well as their Political Action Committee's direction of 87% of their donations to Republicans during the 2004 cycle made Chris Matthews feel so warm and fuzzy that he did the speech for free. That Matthews is listed on a speakers bureau page as accepting fees is not necessarily proof after all that he takes money for speaking in front of these groups, though it is strongly suggestive.

Now, neither NBC nor MSNBC were particularly responsive to our requests for the NBC ethics policy before we published the report. But now we know, because of someone who was able to contact MSNBC President Rick Kaplan, what we wanted to know in the first place. Apparently, there is a policy, NBC anchors don't take money, and we are being unfair to Chris Matthews. From Americablog:

From: Kaplan, Rick (NBC Universal, MSNBC)
To: xxxxx
Sent: Sunday, March 12, 2006 5:26 AM
Subject: Re: Conflict of Interest: Matthews Big Speaking Engagements at Right Wing Organizations

No NBC anchors take money from any interest group...or any group that I can think of...but these folks don't want to hear that and we choose not to engage them. Chris couldn't be more unfairly treated...

Rick Kaplan
President, MSNBC
Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

Kaplan's email is consistent with what Howard Kurtz wrote in 2002 about allowing outside speaking fees for some TV journalists - that "a number of news organizations, including ABC and NBC, banned the practice."

So then, NBC apparently has a policy of not allowing anchors to take money for speaking fees from 'interest groups', as Kaplan puts it. The question becomes, is Matthews violating that rule?

The answer is that if this policy exists, as Kaplan claims it does, then we now know that Matthews is violating it.

Think Progress confirmed with several trade/lobbying groups, including one that paid Chris Matthews $35,000 for one appearance. And these trade groups are interest groups. They lobby and give political contributions.

Rick Kaplan isn't looking too great right now. He's either a liar, he doesn't know his own ethics policy, or he has no idea, nor interest in, what his stars are doing in clear violation of his own network's ban on accepting speaking fees from interest groups.


Oh yeah, one more thing. Guess who's also listed as being available for speaking fees, potentially also in violation of NBC policy? Tim Russert.