The entertainment industry is speaking out in support of Black Lives Matter. Will they act?
Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images
Last Monday, Popular Information reported how Matt Schlapp, a lobbyist and right-wing activist, was using his platform to attack and denigrate Black Lives Matter protesters. He has called the participants "hostile to families, capitalism, cops, unborn life and gender," among other things. Meanwhile, Schlapp has been getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to represent corporations that were publicly proclaiming solidarity with the racial justice movement.
In response to a request for comment for last week's story, Verizon announced it severed ties with Schlapp, who the company had been paying $160,000 per year. Two days later, medical device manufacturer Abbott Labs said it had canceled Schlapp's $200,000 annual contract.
Comcast, which owns NBC and Universal Pictures, and pays Schlapp $120,000 per year, has said nothing. The company has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
Meanwhile, Schlapp has continued his attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement. Schlapp tweeted a video of an interview he conducted with Jason Lewis, a U.S. Senate candidate from Minnesota. In the video, Lewis says the following while Schlapp nods approvingly:
This is not even about George Floyd anymore...It's a Marxist movement that is dedicated to overturning the values of Western Civilization and our constitutional republic. Life, liberty, and property — all those things are on the chopping block...They are coming after corporate America, which has behaved shamefully in some of this stuff by paying ransom. All of our institutions are under the gun, and they are running for their lives because these people cannot be satisfied.
In another video, Schlapp sought to cast the backlash from his attacks on people advocating for racial justice as an attack on his Christian faith. "Anyone who believes in the family, or the principles of the Christian religion, or the fact that America is a good place, that's no longer acceptable," Schlapp said.
Comcast and NBC Universal have remained loyal to Schlapp even though its relationship with him appears incompatible with the companies' stated values. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts says that the company is "committed to being a champion for equality" and pledged that Comcast would "play an integral role in driving lasting reform." NBCUniversal has been similarly outspoken.
A deeper look at Schlapp's operation helps explain Comcast's silence.
Schlapp's influence racket
Schlapp's firm, Cove Strategies, is effectively selling access to the Trump administration and top Republican leaders in Congress. "Cove Strategies specializes in established relationships and connections to Republican officeholders," is how the firm's website puts it. He founded the firm with his wife, Mercedes Schlapp, who was previously Trump's Director of Strategic Communications in the White House and is now a top advisor in Trump's reelection campaign.
A powerful way that Schlapp creates connections with Republican officeholders is through his role as chairman of the American Conservative Union (ACU). The ACU is best known for holding the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the premier political event for right-wing Republicans. Since Trump took office, it has become the premier political event for Republicans. Running CPAC gives Schlapp unrivaled access to nearly every Republican official and candidate in the country. They all want a prime speaking spot at CPAC, which can raise their profile and boost their fundraising.
CPAC's politics mirror Schlapp's. The conference's Twitter feed in recent days has featured repeated attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement, including those from Schlapp.
Schlapp is not shy about leveraging the influence of the ACU, a non-profit, for his paying clients. Comcast began paying Schlapp as a lobbyist in April of 2015. Within two years, Schlapp had named Mike Rose, the Vice President of External Relations for Comcast, to ACU's Board of Directors. Rose's role as a board member is still highlighted on ACU's website, although it does not mention his role with Comcast, where Rose has worked since 2007.
Comcast and NBC Universal now have to decide whether their access to Republican officeholders, including Trump, is more important than their stated commitment to racial justice.
Schlapp's deep ties to the entertainment industry
Schlapp's lobbying contract with Comcast is not his only connection to the entertainment industry. For years, Schlapp was a lobbyist for the Motion Picture Association (MPA), the trade association that represents major corporations in "the film, television, and streaming industry."
The current members of the MPA are Walt Disney Studios, Netflix, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Studios, and Warner Bros.
Schlapp's lobbying contract with the MPA ended in April 2017. Although Schlapp and Cove Strategies offer "government relations services" that do not require a publicly disclosed lobbying agreement, a spokesperson for the MPA told Popular Information that Cove Strategies "does not currently perform services for the Motion Picture Association." Asked when the relationship ended, the spokesperson said the MPA does not "comment on specifics of consultant agreements."
But, even after the expiration of the lobbying contract, the MPA continued to support Schlapp through the ACU. According to the MPA's 2018 trade association tax filing, obtained by Popular Information, the organization donated $175,000 to the ACU.
The MPA spokesperson would not say whether the MPA donated to the ACU in 2019 or whether it would continue to support Schlapp's organization in light of his comments on the Black Lives Matter movement.
The MPA's refusal to distance itself from Schlapp and the ACU, despite their attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement, stands in stark contrast to the public statements of its members.
On May 31, Disney tweeted, "We stand with our fellow Black employees, storytellers, creators, and the entire Black community. We must unite and speak out."
On May 30, Netflix tweeted, "To be silent is to be complicit. Black lives matter. We have a platform, and we have a duty to our Black members, employees, creators and talent to speak up."
Paramount Pictures, in a May 30 tweet, was similarly outspoken.
Sony Pictures weighed in on June 1, saying the company "stands in solidarity with the black community."
Universal Pictures, the Comcast subsidiary that is a member of the MPA, expressed solidarity with the movement on May 31.
On June 4, Warner Bros Pictures tweeted, "We are proud to be part of an organization committed to change. We know words and social posts alone are not enough, and we pledge to hold ourselves accountable and take meaningful action."
The support of the ACU by the major film studios is about more than just money. It is a validation of the views of Schlapp and the ACU by some of the most powerful forces in American culture.
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