Companies Donate $83 Million to Haiti, Get Less Than Three Minutes of Network Coverage

Americans are generous people, and they prove it every time a disaster strikes like last week's earthquake in Haiti. They have donated more than $275 million to relief efforts in the Caribbean nation in the week since the quake.

Nearly one-third of that money came from U.S. companies, a point rarely mentioned on the broadcast news. According to the Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC), 203 companies donated a total of $83 million to Haitian relief so far.

Such positive actions should warrant media coverage, but the networks are inclined to practically ignore corporate charity in favor of attacking the current business target, whether it is banks, Big Oil or bottled water companies.

Despite constant coverage of the Haitian disaster, the three networks spent only 2 minutes 46 seconds talking about businesses donating cash, goods or services to aid the poor nation.

ABC's "Nightline" mentioned corporate generosity on Jan. 14, but her 3-second statement of $20 million in donations (the total raised at that time) was buried in the final minute of the hour-long broadcast.

CNN did more to highlight corporate charity in one Jan. 14 segment that the all three networks put together. Stephanie Elam's report that morning was 3 minutes 15 seconds long and focused entirely on the dozens of companies giving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

BCLC confirmed that a total of 36 companies have given cash, goods or services valued at $1 million or higher as of Jan. 19. According to Associated Press, investment bank Jefferies & Co. donated $1 million plus all $5 million it earned in commissions Jan. 15, while Deutsche Bank AG pledged $4 million and planned to match employee contributions.

Several other companies giving at least $1 million were Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley, all of which have been recently attacked on the networks for the government bailout and for obscene bonuses.

During the same week of coverage, Goldman Sachs was mentioned negatively in 12 reports. Networks only mentioned the financial giant in one story about Haitian relief.

Bankers are just the target du jour - oil companies, Wal-Mart, pharmaceutical companies, bottled water makers and airlines have all been targeted by the media.

In 2006, the Business & Media Institute analyzed a year's worth of newscasts and found few businessmen represented. When businessmen were presented, more than half (57 percent) were negative including "corporate fat cats" and crooks "heading to the slammer."

Philanthropic portrayals of businessmen were rare, on average they were presented as criminals 1 ½ times more than philanthropists.

At least CNN gave some credit to individuals and companies donating millions of dollars. Elam said it was "encouraging to see people reacting so quickly."

Following Hurricane Katrina, media coverage on the broadcast networks centered on tragedy largely ignoring the generosity of individuals, churches and businesses, which added up to $6.5 billion. In the first three weeks after Katrina, corporate donations exceeded $500 million.

Milano's Challenge Dwarfed by Corporate Gifts

Plenty of celebrities have gotten involved in raising money for Haiti, but it was left-wing actress Alyssa Milano who dared corporations to match her gift.

Milano tweeted about her $50,000 donation to UNICEF and asked "Which corporation will match my donation?" Hahn Nguyen writing for Zap2It.com, a celebrity blog, absurdly reported on Jan. 18 that "five days has passed, yet no one has picked up the gauntlet."

In fact, based on a detailed list from the BCLC (an arm of the Chamber of Commerce) 121 companies were likely too busy responding to the disaster to follow the actress on Twitter. They donated goods or services worth $50,000 or more to the Haitian disaster (although not specifically through UNICEF).

That list included The Allstate Foundation, American Express, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Burger King, Dell, FedEx, and Home Depot just to name a few.

Carnival Corporations actually donated 100 times what Milano gave: $5 million split between four groups including UNICEF.

Katie Loovis, the Director of Business and Society Relations for the BCLC, told the Business & Media Institute "we're seeing a tremendous level of generosity" on the part of businesses.

"It's also heartening to see so many people in government wanting to work with businesses" Loovis said referring to cooperation between companies, the UN and other groups to assess needs and expedite the relief effort.

Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy also praised the level of charity (individual and corporate) given the current economy. She told CNN.com, "It makes sense that lots of people gave to the Katrina disaster in the U.S., but to give outside of the U.S. like this is remarkable, especially at a time with 10% unemployment."

Recently Portrayed as Villains, Banks and Credit Card Companies Help Haiti

Despite all the good things Americans companies do - creating useful products, providing jobs and donating to charity - the network media consistently present businesspeople as villains. Broadcast reports in recent months have often referenced the "backlash" against banks and detailed the supposedly unfair practices of credit card companies.

Lately, the networks have loved to hate big banks Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley specifically.

ABC's described congressional hearings as the "financial equivalent of the 9/11 commission" on Jan. 13. That was the day executives from those four companies would "face tough questioning about their role in bringing the world to the brink of economic collapse last year."

Showing a resentment of bonuses, ABC's Jonathan Karl asked Morgan Stanley's chairman John Mack "Where's the accountability?" regarding such executive compensation.

But the same week these bankers were being raked over the coals in Congress and on the network news, the banks gave millions to disaster relief. ABCNews.com ran an article about banks and credit card companies helping Haiti, but supplied suspicion with the subhead "Curious Timing."

CNN's Stephanie Elam reported on Jan 14. that "In addition to the $1 million it's giving, Bank of America will also match all employee donations to the relief effort and it has not - has not put a limit on the total amount of relief money it will donate."

On the broadcast networks however, the banks got little credit. Goldman Sachs was mentioned in only one report about Haitian relief, while the networks aired at least 12 reports mentioning the bank unfavorably. Morgan Stanley wasn't mentioned in any stories about Haiti, but did get mentioned negatively in seven banking stories.

Investment bank Jefferies & Co., which donated $6 million, wasn't mentioned by the networks at all, according to a Nexis search. Neither was $4 million-donor Deutsche Bank AG.

The networks have also been attacking credit card companies in recent months for new fees and interest rate hikes. That followed the networks' history of casting creditors as villains and borrowers as helpless or tricked.

That's exactly what "Good Morning America" did on March 27, 2008. Chris Cuomo pressed the CEO of American Financial Services Association saying, "But with these fees - account management, and all these clever names you have for them - that's not about borrowing. That's about squeezing it out of them before the game even begins. Isn't that unfair? Isn't that past the line?"

Cuomo also bemoaned consumers "Getting sucked in by attractive offers" and being "trapped" by "fee-laden cards" in this installment of the "GMA Gets Answers" series. That story was just many of the "David vs. Goliath" reports about credit card companies in recent years.

But along with hundreds of other businesses the credit card companies sacrificed profit in the wake of the Haitian disaster. American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Discover all announced by Jan. 15 that they would waive transaction fees for donations to Haiti. Additionally, American Express gave $250,000 to the relief effort.

"The entire industry is responding to the crisis in Haiti," Scott Talbott, senior vice president for government affairs for the Financial Services Roundtable, a Washington, D.C.-based lobby group told ABCNews.com. "It's the right thing to do."

Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour is the Assistant Managing Editor for the MRC's Business and Media Institute.