NBC News chief being paid by Walmart, Pepsi ‘clearly a problem’ as network’s ties to both companies go deep

The dust is still settling at NBC News following the debacle last month over its hiring and firing of former Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, but scrutiny of the Comcast-owned network’s leadership remains, particularly top boss Cesar Conde. 

Conde, who apologized to NBC staff over the hiring of McDaniel as an analyst after network talent erupted in anger, has been the subject of multiple reports questioning whether he is best suited to remain the chair of NBCUniversal News Group, a job he has held since 2020 that oversees NBC News, CNBC and MSNBC. 

However, that isn’t his only role. Conde also sits on the board of directors for Walmart and PepsiCo. 

“I think it’s untoward, and I think it needs to be addressed,” an NBC insider told Fox News Digital. “Clearly Cesar’s bosses knew this because everybody knows it. And it didn’t occur to anybody to do anything about it. And that’s Cesar for you. He’s an innocuous guy who, generally speaking, flies under that sort of radar … He’s a young, up-and-coming, hotshot guy. Most of us have realized NBC is a stepping stone for him, right? He’s not going to be CEO of Comcast, he wants to be the CEO of another one of these types of companies, a show or a politician or whatever the case is. So I guess the point is, what’s the accountability here?”

NBC OFFERS GLOWING COVERAGE OF WALMART, PEPSI AS NEWS CHIEF SERVES AS BOARD MEMBER FOR BOTH COMPANIES

The NBC insider said Conde could make the case that his financial ties to Walmart and Pepsi are “good conduct” for NBC’s bottom line, but the ethical issues for the network still remain.

“At some point does somebody sit down and say, ‘Dude, what’s up?'” the insider said. “What should Cesar be doing? Should he be resigning from these boards? I mean, the kind of money he gets from this thing is quite something.”

The insider continued, “Something doesn’t smell right with this. The optics of it are wrong, and it does look like a guy whose focus is not on the journalistic integrity of one of the oldest and largest journalistic brands in the country, it’s on something else. And knowing what I know about Cesar, he’s a businessman. And by the way, his bosses are business people, right? That’s part of the thing to understand. The guy who replaced [former NBCUniversal CEO] Jeff Shell is a business guy. The Roberts people [of Comcast] are cable providers … We’re not owned by journalists. We’re not controlled by journalists. We are a different enterprise.”

NBC News chief Cesar Conde sits on the board of directors for Walmart and PepsiCo. (Getty Images)

Conde’s financial ties to Walmart and PepsiCo have been public knowledge for years. According to a recent report from the Associated Press, which cites Salary.com, Conde “earned $275,018 from Walmart in 2022 and $320,000 from PepsiCo, in a combination of cash and stock.” 

An NBCUniversal spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal in 2021 that Conde would recuse himself from weighing in on stories involving the two companies. 

“That Conde sits on the boards of these corporations is clearly a problem from a journalism ethics standpoint. And it would be true for any news executive who serves for corporations that are subjects in the news agenda,” DePauw University journalism professor Jeffrey McCall says. “The optics look terrible for a major news executive who is being compensated for corporate board participation. News outlets just have to be totally insulated from the business side of the media world, and this is a blending of journalism and business corporatism that shouldn’t be allowed to continue.”

“Even if Conde plays no role in direct news coverage of these two companies, it still looks bad on its face,” McCall told Fox News Digital, insisting NBC staffers reporting on Walmart and PepsiCo must keep their boss’s additional roles in mind. 

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NBCUniversal first hired Conde in 2013 and as he climbed the ranks at Rockefeller, he joined PepsiCo’s board of directors in 2016 and Walmart’s board of directors in 2019. The following year, he was tapped to lead NBC’s entire news operation.

Under his tenure as NBC’s news chief, NBC has aired several bubbly reports about Walmart and Pepsi, according to a review by Fox News Digital.

Cesar Conde

NBCUniversal News Group chairman Cesar Conde, who oversees NBC News, CNBC, and MSNBC, has been criticized in recent days. (Getty Images)

In July 2020, NBC News reported Walmart’s decision to close on Thanksgiving Day and to give bonuses to employees. In September 2020, NBC News aired a lengthy report about Walmart’s partnership with TikTok and how the retail giant would be featured on the app. In August 2022, NBC boasted about how Walmart was expanding its abortion coverage for employees. In July 2023, “NBC Nightly News” aired a report on how Walmart was benefiting from AI

In November 2023, flagship morning show “Today” offered free airtime to a Walmart Black Friday ad that reunited the cast of “Mean Girls,” showing viewers the commercial almost in its entirety. That month “Today” also aired an “exclusive” behind-the-scenes look at a Walmart warehouse. 

NBC landed multiple “exclusive” interviews with Walmart CEO John Furner, one in February 2021 promoting Walmart’s COVID vaccination efforts for customers and employees, and another in November 2021 with him arguing Walmart is the more affordable option during rising inflation

NBC interviews Walmart CEO

NBC News landed multiple “exclusive” interviews with Walmart CEO John Furner. (Screenshot/NBC)

NBC even went to great lengths in giving Walmart favorable treatment compared to its direct competitors. In September 2020, it reported how Walmart was “stepping up its Ecommerce game” with its delivery service subscription rivaling Amazon. In November 2022, “Today” gave Walmart’s pre-Black Friday deals top billing ahead of Target, Amazon and Best Buy. Last month, NBC suggested Walmart had the superior subscription service over Target and Amazon since it had “a few bells and whistles.”

And just last week, “Today” aired a positive segment about Walmart “upskilling” its employees in the AI era, though also mentioning Amazon making similar efforts. 

NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck swiped “hobnobbing-obsessing” Conde, telling Fox News Digital it’s “no surprise” that NBC offered such glowing coverage. 

“This entire exercise is a reminder of what corporate news looks like in action with big corporations serving as public relations officials for other big corporations,” Houck says. “It goes well beyond the old adage of ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.'”

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PepsiCo similarly benefited from NBC’s on-air coverage. In March 2021, “Today” plugged the soda giant’s limited edition Peeps-flavored Pepsi. In December 2021, NBC promoted Pepsi’s Super Bowl Halftime Show app. In December 2022, “Today” put a spotlight on the viral “Pilk” trend inspired by a Pepsi ad featuring Lindsay Lohan drinking a glass of milk combined with Pepsi. In February 2023, “Today” offered a “sneak peek” into Pepsi’s Super Bowl ad starring Steve Martin. Weeks later, “Today” plugged another Pepsi ad, this one featuring Ben Stiller reprising his “Zoolander” character.

“Today” offered heavy promotion of Pepsi just last month alone, showing a viral video of a 15-month-old boy who “really, really wanted to try a Pepsi” and hyping fast food chain Subway’s “head-turning” decision to switch to Pepsi from Coca-Cola starting next year.

NBC promotes Pepsi ad

NBC’s “Today” highlighted the so-called viral “Pilk” trend inspired by a Pepsi ad featuring Lindsay Lohan in December 2022. (Screenshot/NBC)

Pepsi’s ties to NBCUniversal appear to go far beyond friendly reports on “Today.” In 2021, Pepsi was a sponsor of NBCUniversal’s Upfront, an annual industry event networks hold to promote their programming to advertisers. 

In 2019, while Conde served as the chairman of NBCUniversal International Group and NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, PepsiCo provided “Pepsi Sparkling Rosé” for the company’s “BravoCon.” In 2015, one year before Conde joined its board, Pepsi partnered with Conde-led NBCUniversal International for a “Back to the Future” campaign to promote its brand. There’s no evidence to show the two events were related, however.

Also notable is NBCUniversal’s announced direct partnership with Walmart in November allowing Bravo viewers to shop online while watching the streaming service Peacock for merchandise seen in its programming. 

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“This is a huge issue for NBC News and a clear conflict of interest on Cesar Conde’s part,” media columnist and Fox News contributor Joe Concha said. 

Former NBC News executive vice president Bill Wheatley similarly told the AP, “It seemed to me that this was an additional instance of NBC management not understanding the rules by which news leaders are supposed to play.”

Neither NBC nor its parent company Comcast responded to requests for comment. 

Fox News’ Brian Flood contributed to this report. 

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