By Bob Sanchez, JMI Policy Director
Posted May 8, 2012
I never complain about the big paychecks earned by successful people, whether they’re business leaders, college presidents, entertainers, or star athletes such as the college football players taken last month during pro football’s annual draft. So when I hear Occupy Wall Street protestors and other green-with-envy leftists complain, I say, “Let the market work.” After all, athletes and entertainers – rarely the object of the protestors’ scorn — put spectators in the seats and draw eyeballs to the screens. This makes lots of money for the people who pay them.Meanwhile, in the business world, autopsies of failed enterprises reveal that the cause of death in many cases was myopic management. The aforesaid myopia is often reflected in corporate leaders’ failure to respond to competition and/or to notice market trends caused by rapid advances in technology. The demise of companies behind iconic brands such as Kodak, Polaroid, and Circuit City, together with the recent bailouts in the U.S. auto industry, suggests that bad management, in the end, can be far more costly than paying top dollar for first-rate leadership.Unfortunately, first-rate leadership is as much in high demand — and short supply — as franchise-quality quarterbacks in the National Football League. Short supply plus high demand equals top pay.Which brings us to Matt Lauer, the co-host of NBC’s Today Show. The show — a long-running mishmash of news, entertainment, and plugs for other interests of the parent company, NBC-Universal – once had a chimp named J. Fred Muggs “co-hosting” (1953-57) with Today’s original host, Dave Garroway. For awhile after that embarrassment — and especially during the period encompassing the peak of the Cold War,Vietnam, and Watergate — the program featured more respected journalists such as Hugh Downs, Tom Brokaw, and Jane Pauley.Under their influence, Today became a somewhat more serious purveyor of news – though always with an admixture of entertainment thrown in. In recent years, however, Today stresses entertainment, with an admixture of news thrown in. Critics even refer to Today and similar programs as “infotainment.” Nonetheless, it has remained a ratings leader in its time slot and an important generator of profits for long-suffering NBC. As a result, keeping Today ahead in the ratings is an important goal for NBC, which otherwise has been languishing in fourth place among the four major broadcast networks – and losing boatloads of money year after year on its failed prime-time programming.NBC’s top executives obviously attribute a good bit of Today’s ratings success to Mr. Lauer, who has been paired with a variety of co-hosts since he came aboard in 1997. Lauer and NBC just signed a new contract extending his co-hosting duties at a reported (but denied) annual salary of $25 million. To earn this, he had to be willing to get up early, read a Teleprompter, interview guests ranging from world leaders to Hollywood starlets, occasionally travel to exotic places at the network’s expense, and – most important — keep Today’s ratings ahead of ABC’s Good Morning America.If Mr. Lauer can persuade NBC to pay him the reported $25 million a year to do all of that, more power to him. Even so, there is a bit of irony in that this pay scale places Mr. Lauer squarely in the realm that the Occupy Wall Street protestors have labeled “the one percent.” What makes this doubly ironic is Mr. Lauer’s views on politics and economics, views that clearly align him with the thinking of the leftist protestors and also led him to be among the harshest critics of the tea party movement. The nonpartisan Media Research Centerhas documented numerous examples of Mr. Lauer’s pro-liberal, anti-conservative bias.Granted, to note that there is liberal bias at NBC, the sister network of the relentlessly leftist MSNBC, is like reporting that grass is green and water is wet. Even so, it is worth noting that one of the TV personalities parroting the progressives’ populist rhetoric is a millionaire getting paid a lot of money to do so. I’ll leave it to others to judge whether this amounts to hypocrisy.