As the New Yorker's former press critic, A.J. Liebling, famously said, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." Perhaps that quotation is framed somewhere in a boardroom at the General Electric Corp., which owns NBC News.
In spite of robust profits of $14.2 billion worldwide, GE has calculated a corporate tax bill for 2010 that adds up to zero, via a creative series of tax referrals and revenue shifts. (This was, indeed, the second year running that the company—which has an enormous, and famously nimble, 975-employee tax division, led by former Treasury official John Samuels—paid nothing in U.S. taxes; indeed by claiming a series of losses and deductions, GE came up with a negative tax of 10.5 percent in the admittedly dismal business year of 2009, and realized a $1.5 billion "tax benefit.")
The curious thing about this year's tax story is that it turned up in many major news outlets, with one key exception: NBC News. As the Washington Post's Paul Farhi notes, the network's "Nightly News" broadcast, hosted by Brian Williams, has not mentioned anything about its corporate parent's resourceful accounting, even though the story has been in wide circulation in the business and general-interest press for nearly a week. "This was a straightforward news decision, the kind we make daily around here" network spokeswoman Lauren Kapp told the Post.
One press critic who begs to differ: Daily Show host Jon Stewart, who noted that the Nightly News found the time for a dispatch on the inclusion of slang expressions in the Oxford English Dictionary, such as "LOL" and "OMG." Of course, Comedy Central's corporate parent, Viacom, is also no slouch when it comes to tax strategy: Earlier this year it sold its struggling videogame unit Harmonix for $50—so that it could claim a tax credit of $50 million.
(Photo of Williams: Matt Sayles/AP)