Conan O’Brien is expected to receive some $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 late-night talk show host to a Goldman Sachs or Citigroup banker, he’s arguably only a few steps removed.
Though the conglomerate wasn’t a recipient of direct equity 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 this 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 total.
Unlike some of the banks that received direct equity injections from the government, GE can argue it does not deserve the same scrutiny over compensation that has bedeviled financial companies including Citigroup, Goldman and American International Group.
But without the FDIC’s largess, the group’s troubled financial arm, GE Capital, would have struggled to fund its $650 billion balance sheet. That, in turn, could have forced its parent to liquidate assets, starting with NBC. In a truly worst-case scenario, GE might have even had to seek protection from its creditors.
Had GE been forced to dump NBC in a fire-sale, new owners could have demanded changes to contracts like Mr. O’Brien’s. True, that’s not the same as, say, a Citi banker fighting for a bonus after the government clearly bailed out the bank. But it’s only a few steps removed. So a bit of thanks to taxpayers from Mr. O’Brien may be in order.