Peacock Profits

Why is Obama not upset with NBC like he is with other large companies paying bonuses?

President Obama has made condemning wealth a priority throughout his candidacy and his first year in office. Whether aimed at banks, insurance companies, or corporate CEOs, Obama uses the phrase "fat cat" about as often as prominent Democrats use racial slurs.

But the president's aim at these specific entities is myopically populist at best and blatantly illogical and hypocritical at worst.

We have all been following the drama at NBC's late night division as Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno wage war with Jeff Zucker for the American television audience. But what is really occurring at the peacock network is strangely similar to the failing of auto companies, banks, and other government-infiltrated operations. What's not similar is how the government is responding. 

NBC's late-night ratings are down. It's not producing at an acceptable level. Sound familiar, General Motors? How about you, Wall Street? But instead of Obama and his fellow Democrats calling for pay limitations for failing executives, or even demanding their resignation, television gets a pass. And the result is an astounding $45 million for the man publicly blamed by NBC for the failure. O'Brien will earn the bulk of it, and Leno will get his old job back. Even though NBC is nearly the very definition of "big business" that liberals despise, the government doesn't feel the ne ed to get involved.

The film industry is no different.  Eddie Murphy hasn't made a decent film in decades, yet he managed to pull down $40 million in 2009. Ardent Obama supporter George Clooney earned over $25 million last year despite a string of box-office flops. Shouldn't the Democratic Congress force them to give some of that money back, either to the studios or, better yet, to the American public who has had to sit through some of their horrendous productions?

But it's not just Hollywood that actually allows contracts to be fulfilled.

This past college football season saw the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame put together yet another dismal season, further tarnishing the program's storied history. The team's head coach, Charlie Weis, the once-highly-respected NFL coordinator, failed to meet the demands of the institution, as well those of the citizens of northern Indiana and fans across the country. Weis's punishment for failing? Somewhere between $18 and $30 million for him and his staff. Why didn't Obama plead for Weis to relinquish his multimillion-dollar buyout?

What our president, who has never been involved in any sort of business, does not seem to grasp is that sometimes it is actually more cost-effective and time-efficient to pay employees while dismissing them. In the long run, money will likely be saved. Rather than continuing to allow Leno, O'Brien, and Weis to continue running their institutions into the ground, paying them to leave may be cheaper.

Though his ratings were low in the Tonight Show, Conan O'Brien is hilarious, and he seems like a genuinely respectable guy as well. And he deserves every single penny he can squeeze from NBC. A contract is a contract, and if he is to be released from it, he ought to get paid whatever he is worth...just as all employees warrant such treatment. I'm proud of any worker -- actor, comedian, football coach, banker, or insurance executive -- legally earning as much as possible. That's the American dream, where talent and opportunity combine for fair and legitimate profit.

This is what happens when the government gets involved in deciding which companies or industries should succeed and to what extent, or which ones deserve bailouts should they fail. Logical reasoning becomes a foreign concept, as some sectors of society remain openly capitalistic, while others -- those specifically targeted by inexperienced intellectuals -- swing to socialism.  And the rest of us no longer recognize the America we thought we knew.

So what can we learn from Obama's anger with American big business this past year?   

The answer is clear: If companies want to be able to pay their employees according to their contracts, they should go into entertainment. Check your local listings for the upcoming AIG television network.

Cartoon by Bob Clendaniel.