– The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

By Rolfe Winkler

NEW YORK, Jan 19 (Reuters Breakingviews) – Conan O’Brien is expected to receive $40 million for leaving NBC, the media unit of General Electric, itself among the largest recipients of taxpayer help. While it would be a stretch to compare the American late-night talk show host to a Goldman Sachs or Citigroup banker, he’s only a few steps removed.

Though it wasn’t a recipient of direct aid from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, GE availed itself of perhaps an equally important bailout facility, the Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program overseen by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Participants in the scheme were able to issue debt with a government guarantee, receiving explicit taxpayer backing in the event of default. Though GE was just one of 88 firms with outstanding Uncle Sam backed debt as of October 31, its $60 billion of issuance accounted for nearly a fifth of the $315 billion total.

Unlike some of the banks that received direct equity injections from the government, GE can argue it is exempt from the same scrutiny over compensation that has bedeviled financial companies including Citigroup, Goldman and American International Group.