Philadelphia, PA / Washington, DC – Sharp words were exchanged at Comcast’s annual shareholder meeting in Philadelphia today between Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and conservative activists David Ridenour and Justin Danhof, with Ridenour at one point condescendingly offering Roberts help in creating an accuracy policy for Comcast’s NBC Universal and Danhof telling Roberts, “you can sit and laugh, but I’m going to finish my question.”
Ridenour attended the meeting to ask Roberts why Comcast hired an outside law firm to help it squash a shareholder proposal from his wife, Amy Ridenour, that simply asked for a non-proprietary report to shareholders detailing how Comcast avoids libel suits.
David Ridenour is president of the National Center for Public Policy Research; Justin Danhof is general counsel and director of its Free Enterprise Project. Amy Ridenour is chairman.
Danhof asked Roberts about a new Comcast policy that bans ads from gun shops while Comcast properties continue to broadcast vast amounts of violent programming, asking, “Why does Comcast’s management believe it is appropriate for Comcast to profit from the excessive glorification of gun violence, but not appropriate for gun shops to advertise legal firearms and ammunition to people who overwhelmingly use firearms in a lawful and safe manner, including in self-defense?”
Noting that Roberts was smirking and laughing as Danhof asked his question, the full text of which can be found here, Danhof interrupted himself to tell Roberts, “you can sit and laugh, but I’m going to finish my question.” After Danhof did so, Roberts told him that was his point of view and that Comcast was sticking by its decision to ban advertising of guns and ammunition.
Danhof replied, “If you’re naive enough to think that Americans who respect gun rights aren’t gonna vote with their wallets and leave Comcast, you’re as naive as you are hypocritical.”
Ridenour and Roberts went numerous rounds on the issue of Comcast’s accuracy standards, with Roberts at one point saying the FCC has banned Comcast from interfering with the editorial standards of its own media properties. Ridenour, who reviewed the FCC requirements in place when General Electric transferred control of NBC Universal to Comcast, disagreed with the accuracy of this assertion, and added that, regardless, accuracy standards are not editorializing, they are legal standards put in place to protect the corporation from libel suits, and Comcast needs to have them.
Roberts then claimed Comcast does have these standards, to which Ridenour replied, “If you have the procedures, why aren’t shareholders allowed to see them?”
Ridenour’s microphone was then cut off by Comcast.
At one point in the exchange, Ridenour told Roberts that if NBC Universal had trouble devising accuracy standards, that the National Center for Public Policy Research would be willing it share its own standards. Roberts said Comcast would be willing to take a look at them.
Ridenour’s question, as prepared for delivery, can be found here.
Amy Ridenour had filed a shareholder proposal asking Comcast to reveal its accuracy procedures to shareholders after Rachel Maddow of MSNBC falsely accused the National Center, under her leadership, of bribing Members of Congress, a felony. When Amy Ridenour and the National Center requested a correction, they instead received a hostile letter from MSNBC President Phil Griffin that made additional false statements.
Following the meeting, Ridenour and Danhof met with David Cohen, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Comcast. On the question of the original libel, Cohen said Comcast thought it was covered against a libel charge because of a 2006 Washington Post story. While the National Center strongly disagrees, in part because Maddow made accusations not included in the Post story, Ridenour limited his response, telling Cohen that the Post story was very old, and significant parts of it later were proven untrue. Danhof added that even if they believed the Post gave them legal cover, since the story was untrue, what about “ethical” standards? Cohen said ethical standards are more “difficult.”
Cohen said he had reviewed the Post article as cover for MSNBC’s broadcast, but had never seen any of the other materials that the National Center had sent to Comcast’s outside counsel. Cohen agreed to do so if the National Center would send this information to him.
David Ridenour concluded, “MSNBC believes itself – wrongly, we think – to be covered legally, but ethically, they think it’s more complicated. They’re apparently not holding themselves to an ethical standard.”
Amy Ridenour’s original proposal, Comcast’s legal team’s objections to it, Ridenour’s response and the SEC’s ruling can be found on the SEC’s website here. For those interested, this PDF document contains details of the core of Maddow’s defamatory claim and Amy Ridenour’s response to it (see pages 6-8 of Ridenour’s February 7, 2013 letter to the Office of the Chief Counsel of the Securities and Exchange Commission).
A press release with more details about Comcast’s hypocritical gun policy can be found here. A press release with more details about the shareholder proposal seeking access to Comcast’s accuracy standards can be found here.
A link to Justin Danhof’s exchanges with Comcast CEO Roberts about accuracy and bias at MSNBC at last year’s shareholder meeting can be found here.
A link to David Ridenour’s exchanges with General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt in 2010 (when GE controlled MSNBC) over bias at MSNBC can be found here.
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