“We are appalled by your decision to challenge and destroy the federal civil rights statute of 1866 in the U.S. Supreme Court and do so in partnership with the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice,” the Los Angeles Urban League said Wednesday in a scorching letter to Comcast boss Brian Roberts and Senior EVP David Cohen (read the full letter below).
“If you choose to continue your attempt to eviscerate this civil rights law, we will have no choice but to call for a boycott of everything Comcast, effective immediately,” LAUL President and CEO Michael Lawson warned the duo in a clear backing of Allen and his Entertainment Studios’ long-running legal battle with the Philadelphia-based corporation.
On August 15 the DOJ filed a brief that seeks to tighten the definitions of the Reconstruction Era statute in Comcast’s favor and to the very vocal Allen’s detriment at the high court.
“This case is not about Comcast’s strong civil rights and diversity record,” a spokesperson for the NBCUniversal owner told Deadline in response to the LAUL letter. “There has been no finding of discriminatory conduct by Comcast in this case by any court, and there has been none.”
“In fact, the trial court dismissed plaintiffs’ claims of race discrimination three times, finding them utterly without merit,” the Comcast rep added. “Comcast has an outstanding record of supporting and fostering diverse programming, including programming from African-American owned channels, two more of which we launched earlier this year. his appeal is solely about a technical point of law that was decided in a novel, and we believe, incorrect way by the Ninth Circuit. We hope the Supreme Court will reverse the Ninth Circuit’s clearly erroneous interpretation of the law and bring this case to an end.”
As you can see, Comcast never mention the Urban League or a potential boycott once in their response to the threat of such action.
In an interview with Deadline on the middle of last month and reiterated in an August 20 follow-up op-ed, Allen said “you have one of the biggest media companies in the world, which has been beating up Donald Trump for racism, and now they are saying, we will work together to maintain institutionalized racism in America, in this Amicus Brief they delivered last Thursday.”
Late last month the LAUL took to social media in support of Allen and his company:
In their fight against Byron Allen, Comcast and now the DOJ have asked SCOTUS for a new interpretation of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, specifically section 1981, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and ethnicity when making and enforcing contracts. pic.twitter.com/sKA8A5PlsN
— Los Angeles Urban League (@laurbanleague) August 29, 2019
However, what perhaps makes today’s message from one of the nation’s most esteemed civil rights groups all the more striking for Roberts and Cohen is that both long have projected themselves as agents of inclusion. In fact, Cohen is on the Board of Trustees of the National Urban League.
‘What you do now will tell us whether you are truly a supporter of the cause or just an enemy working from the inside trying to control our behavior,” the City of Angels chapter chief made a point of noting in his correspondence. “If you are a supporter of the cause, you will immediately and without condition withdraw your appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
With the initial filing of his cases in 2015 and 2016, Allen’s contention has been that Comcast and Charter violated the Civil Rights Act after he attempted for years to get the cable giants to carry his networks, which were available to millions of television viewers through rival distributors including Verizon, Dish and the now-AT&T-owned DirecTV. The African-American executive said he has been rebuffed repeatedly and jerked around and states clearly that he believes race played a factor because Entertainment Studios is a fully minority owned entity.
Both Comcast and Charter in their respective suits have said race was not a factor in the carriage deals or lack thereof.
Also, unsurprisingly, Comcast and Charter have sought to have the suits tossed out of court. When they failed in that effort to end a case that they framed as a form of corporate expression, the MSNBC owner took the battle to Chief Justice John Roberts and the associate justices.
The federal government detailed its perspective on the matter by saying in mid-August that “because ‘making’ a contract means entering a contract, a person does not enjoy ‘the same right’ guaranteed by Section 1981 if race prevents her from entering a contract that a similarly situated white person would have entered. And the inverse is also true.”
Comcast did not respond to request for comment on today’s L.A. Urban League correspondence.
Here is the full letter from the L.A. Urban League:
September 4, 2019
Mr. Brian Roberts
Chairman & CEO
Mr. David L. Cohen
Senior Executive Vice President
1701 John F. Kennedy Blvd.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Dear Mr. Roberts and Mr. Cohen:
We are appalled by your decision to challenge and destroy the federal civil rights statute of 1866 in the U.S. Supreme Court and do so in partnership with the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice.
It is clear from your actions that you have conceded that race was a significant, if not the only, factor in your refusal to negotiate a contract in good faith and that your only pathway to success is to eviscerate a 153-year old civil rights statute, set back civil rights for millions of Americans and embolden the racist elements throughout om country, which grow stronger on a daily basis. If this is not your goal, you should immediately and without condition withdraw your appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
If your goal is to dismantle the civil rights gains that have been secured with the lives, blood, sweat and tears of countless generations through the 400 years that have passed since the commencement of the legal enslavement of Africans in this country, you should be clear about your intentions and resign as officers of your corporation, Comcast.
Mr. Roberts, you, along with almost 200 members of the Business Roundtable, signed an open letter calling for corporations to “foster diversity and inclusion” and “respect the people in our communities.” Yet, you now want to destroy a federal civil rights statute in the U.S. Supreme Court with the help of Donald Trump’s Department of Justice. As leaders of a major American, publicly-traded corporation providing critical news, information, and broadband connectivity to millions of people, you should be working to enhance the civil rights of your subscribers, investors, viewers, advertisers, not diminish them.
You should not challenge our civil rights in the U.S. Supreme Court and foster institutionalized racism with the help of Donald Trump.
If you choose to continue your attempt to eviscerate this civil rights law, we will have no choice but to call for a boycott of everything Comcast, effective immediately. We will bring this matter to the attention of (1) your regulators, including, without limitation the Federal Communications Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission; (2) your investors, many of whom demand that the public companies in which they invest adhere to basic tenets of civil rights values; (3) your
NBC/MSNBC/CNBC/USA/BRAVO/E! viewers, millions of whom look to your networks’ journalistic and editorial practices as paragons of American ethics and morals; (4) your advertisers, many of which have withdrawn their advertising dollars from other media platforms that have shown hostility or insensitivity to the civil rights of African Americans and other minorities; and (5) your subscribers, millions of whom are African .American or other ethnic minorities subject to the protection of the Civil Rights Act.
And last but not least, Mr. Cohen, as a member of the Board of Trustees of The National Urban League, one of America’s longest, long-standing civil rights organizations, what you do now will tell us whether you are truly a supporter of the cause or just an enemy working from the inside trying to control our behavior. If you a1·e a supporter of the cause, you will immediately and without condition withdraw your appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Michael A. Lawson
President & CEO