Cozy: MSNBC's Brewer Promotes Electric Car Charging Stations as Parent Company GE Sells Them

Displaying a clear conflict of interest during Friday's 12PM ET hour on MSNBC, anchor Contessa Brewer did a story promoting electric car charging stations but did not disclose to viewers that the channel's parent company, General Electric, was selling the very same product. GE commercials for the charging stations have frequently aired on MSNBC in recent weeks.

Brewer began the segment, a part of NBC-Universal's "Green is Progress" week, by declaring: "Houston, the city known for gas pumps and oil gushers, is getting the nation's largest network of electric car charging stations." The company providing the charging stations was not General Electric, but rather NRG Energy. Brewer interviewed the company's president and CEO, David Crane.  

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She asked Crane about the marketing strategy: "So is this sort of a chicken and the egg problem? That people aren't going to buy electric cars if there's no place in public to charge them, and if people don't have electric cars, then how do you support electric charging stations?" Later, she teed him up to make his sales pitch: "You're offering these new charging stations. What's special about that as opposed to just plugging your car in?"

The two touted the financial benefit of electric vehicles:

CRANE: So for approximately $80 a month, you know, fixed charge, you can drive as far as you can in your electric car. You've got the fast charger in your garage and you have access to this network around the city.

BREWER: 80 bucks a month, that's probably far less than what people are spending with any kind of real commute.

CRANE: The average person is spending about $120 a month, three fill-ups a month.

BREWER: On gas.

CRANE: And of course, in this case, there's also the convenience benefit. You never have to go in a service station. You never have to get an oil change.

Brewer then asked if Crane's company was getting any government assistance, he replied: "Contessa, shocking as this may seem in this current environment, this is an all private sector initiative at this point." She followed up: "So if you didn't need government incentive to do it, I mean, do you think there are other green initiatives that could proceed without the government saying, 'We've got to do this'?" Before Crane could answer, Brewer spoke of capitalism as if it were some alien concept: "And that's what the capitalists are arguing, 'This is a free market system, it'll happen on its own.'"

Crane quickly clarified that he would be all for government intervention, he even offered a policy suggestion: "I would tell you that one thing that the government can do, if anyone in Washington is listening to this show-" Brewer interjected: "Yeah, they are, I'm sure." Crane continued: "Turn HOV lanes into green leans and let people in plug-in vehicles drive. Because that's the ultimate convenience benefit and that's what HOV lanes were first made for....Was to reduce local tailpipe emissions and nothing reduces local tailpipe emissions like electric vehicles." Brewer agreed: "Absolutely....I think it's a great idea and I wish you the best of luck."

On Monday, Brewer called on the government to implement a 25 cent gas tax and force Americans to conform to an environmentalist agenda.

Brewer concluded the Friday segment by once again praising the charging stations: "...we'll see if by putting the charging stations around, if you can convince Houstonians then to go out and purchase the electric cars....I hope to see how that develops."


Here is a full transcript of the November 19 interview:

12:21PM ET

CONTESSA BREWER: Well, big oil meets big electric today in Houston, the city known for gas pumps and oil gushers is getting the nation's largest network of electric car charging stations. David Crane is the president and CEO of NRG Energy which is launching the new network. David, why Texas? I mean, everything is bigger in Texas, that's the way they like it. Their big oil is a big deal down there. Why electric cars?

DAVID CRANE: Well, I think Texas is – it may be counterintuitive, but it's a great market to do this, in Houston in particular, because it's a hub and spoke city. Quite frankly, there are a lot of garages, people park their cars in garages, unlike – personal garages – unlike here in New York City. And you have to keep in mind that the service station of the future, when you're talking about electric vehicles, is your garage. So that's a very important thing. And Texas considers itself to be the center of energy innovation, sort of the California of energy, you know, in that sense.

BREWER: Yeah. So is this sort of a chicken and the egg problem? That people aren't going to buy electric cars if there's no place in public to charge them, and if people don't have electric cars, then how do you support electric charging stations?

CRANE: Well, there's the question of what's – the electric car is a classic disruptive technology, and the technology hurdle that had to overcome was range initially. But now there's batteries, lithium ion batteries, that'll take a car more than 100 miles. And since Americans only drive their average car 40 miles a day, the range question – the technological question has been solved. So  what we're solving with what we came out with yesterday was the new problem of range anxiety. Even though people have the range, they don't want to use if they're afraid that they're going to get caught on the other side of-

BREWER: You don't want to be stranded.

CRANE: Exactly.

BREWER: Okay, so let's go back to home where you think something like 80% to 90% of charging actually occurs. You're offering these new charging stations. What's special about that as opposed to just plugging your car in?

CRANE: Well, keep in mind, a lot of focus on what we now say was about one out of three elements that we're offering. First of all, we're going to put a fast charger in your garage and that is your main charging element. The second thing that was really focused on yesterday is we're going to put a series of convenience chargers around the greater Houston area. And that's going to handle your range.

BREWER: And what does that cost? Is that-

CRANE: It's all one package deal and it's billed through your home electricity bill. And the third element is all the electricity you can use to fuel your car. So for approximately $80 a month, you know, fixed charge, you can drive as far as you can in your electric car. You've got the fast charger in your garage and you have access to this network around the city.

BREWER: 80 bucks a month, that's probably far less than what people are spending with any kind of real commute.

CRANE: The average person is spending about $120 a month, three fill-ups a month.

BREWER: On gas.

CRANE: And of course, in this case, there's also the convenience benefit. You never have to go in a service station. You never have to get an oil change.

BREWER: Yeah. Let me ask you, are you getting any kind of government incentives for this? Stimulus dollars, tax breaks, that kind of thing?

CRANE: Contessa, shocking as this may seem in this current environment, this is an all private sector initiative at this point.

BREWER: So if you didn't need government incentive to do it, I mean, do you think there are other green initiatives that could proceed without the government saying, 'We've got to do this'?

CRANE: Well, I mean-

BREWER: And that's what the capitalists are arguing, 'This is a free market system, it'll happen on its own.'

CRANE: Well, you know, I believe there are actually a lot of these emerging technologies that actually need support to get over the hump because they have economies of scale and things like that. So I wouldn't be making that argument. I'm just saying in this case, this is a private sector approach, and I would tell you that one thing that the government can do, if anyone in Washington is listening to this show-

BREWER: Yeah, they are, I'm sure.

CRANE: Turn HOV lanes into green leans and let people in plug-in vehicles drive. Because that's the ultimate convenience benefit and that's what HOV lanes were first made for.

BREWER: Absolutely.

CRANE: Was to reduce local tailpipe emissions and nothing reduces local tailpipe emissions like electric vehicles.

BREWER: I think it's a great idea and I wish you the best of luck. And you know, we'll see if by putting the charging stations around, if you can convince Houstonians then to go out and purchase the electric cars. Because they're not – they're not cheap. They're going to invest, really, in their vehicles. I hope to see how that develops. Thanks-

CRANE: Yeah. The purchase of the car has to stop looking at just the sticker price and has to look at the life of the car, what's going to be the total cost. Because the up-front cost is going to be more but the operating costs are going to be so much less. And so – and yes, our strategy is a bit of a 'Field of Dreams' strategy, build the network-

BREWER: Build it.

CRANE: And they will come, they will buy.

BREWER: David, thank you so much for joining me. Appreciate seeing you here in New York.

CRANE: Thank you, Contessa.
 

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC