Published August 17, 2009
Can you celebrate the Obama presidency at NBC?
Yes you can.
If you're a fan of all things Obama, NBC Universal's online store has no fewer than 29 options for your buying pleasure -- from a shirt with the president's picture proclaiming "YES WE DID"...to both of his books...to a special inauguration DVD...to a refrigerator magnet of the first couple.
And don't forget the Barack Obama Action Figure -- yours for $15, plus tax.
You can buy them online -- or at NBC Universal's retail store in New York.
Some analysts say it's good business, that NBC is simply offering what people want to buy. They point out that the adult version of the “YES WE DID” shirt ($25) was so popular, it sold out on the Web site.
But others note that there is no merchandise available that shows support for the other side of the political aisle. And they question whether the political bent of the items on sale are healthy for a corporation that operates an impartial news outlet.
Some of NBC’s item descriptions would seem to support that notion: "Bring reform to your refrigerator. Or at least keep company with the President while you're at work, with the Barack Obama Magnet," one item description reads.
"From Yes We Can to Yes We Did! Celebrate Barack Obama's historic victory with the new 'Yes We Did' Unisex T-Shirt," reads another.
But if your favorite color in the red, white and blue just happens to be red, you're out of luck.
There are no t-shirts or refrigerator magnets for George and Laura Bush, and NBC did not say whether it ever sold Bush items after his victory in 2000.
The CBS and ABC online stores sell books about the president, but no merchandise. Fox and CNN do not sell books or gear.
Some journalism ethics scholars said NBC Universal's focus on Obama merchandise was unseemly for a media outlet.
"The NBC Universal Store stands out for the amount of pro-Obama trinkets and gadgets and promotional material it sells. Its nearest competitor is CBS, which has a dozen items...books and the 60 Minutes interview with Obama,” DePaul University journalism professor Bruce Evensen said.
"The [NBC] site seems like a campaign stop for those following their messiah...The appearance that NBC isn't reporting the news with fairness, balance and impartiality -- but is instead cheerleading -- is apparent," he said.
But others said the sale of Obama items appeared to be nothing more than a smart business decision.
"I think it indicates that NBC thinks it can make money from selling Obama items but not from McCain or Bush items," said Eric Alterman, author of the book, "What Liberal Media?" and an English and journalism professor at Brooklyn College in New York.
Joe Luppino-Esposito, a conservative blogger who spotted the shirts for sale, agreed that selling only Obama gear could be a good business decision, but he said that it reflected network bias nonetheless.
"It's definitely possible that it's a business decision, but I think that a news organization should always be careful in selling products that aren't so blatant in showing a bias," he said.
Jane Kirtley, executive director of the University of Minnesota’s Silha Center for Media Ethics and Law, said, "I would agree that it is problematic when you have an entity that has a news division to appear to be taking a partisan line. When you're selling memorabilia that supports anybody who prevailed in an election, you run the risk of being labeled as having a partisan affiliation."
"To me, whatever money they're making off of this, it's not worth it. It undermines any attempt to represent itself as a nonpartisan entity," she said.
But Alterman said the idea that the Obama merchandise reflects on the reporting at NBC and MSNBC was "almost comically stupid."
"Do these conservatives think that the person making the decision of what items to sell in the NBC gift shops is the person giving orders about how to slant the politics of NBC news?" he asked.
"What about the choice of beverage sales in the cafeteria?"
Liberal media watch groups Media Matters and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting declined to comment on the issue.