Call it a classic David vs. Goliath story. Comcast found itself in the middle of a PR quagmire this week after Seattle non-profit Reel Grrls disclosed that the cable giant had cut funding for its summer film camp program over a Tweet. And what did the tiny non-profit — whose mission is to empower young girls through film and digital media — say which angered its corporate backer? It questioned Comcast’s hiring of Meredith Attwell Baker, the former member of the Federal Communications Commission.

On May 12th, an employee for Reel Grrls Tweeted:

“OMG! @FCC Commissioner Baker voted 2 approve Comcast/NBC merger & is now lving FCC for A JOB AT COMCAST?!?”

That’s hardly a controversial message, with even Jon Stewart of The Daily Show questioning the hire.

But Comcast’s response to the May 12th Tweet from Reel Grrls hit home when the company threatened to cut $18,000 in funding for the summer camp.

“I am frankly shocked that your organization is slamming us on Twitter,” Comcast spokesman Steve Kipp reportedly wrote in an email to the organization. He added that the Tweet “has put me in an indefensible position with my bosses. I cannot continue to ask them to approve funding for Reel Grrls, knowing that the digital footprint your organization has created about Comcast is a negative one.”

That caused a firestorm with coverage in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and other publications — especially after Reel Grrls followed up with this biting YouTube video.

Now, Comcast has apologized for threatening to yank the funding.

Len Rozek, senior vice president of Comcast Seattle, apologized in a Thursday letter to Reel Grrls and said that they would continue funding the program.

“This morning I was shocked to learn that someone on my team reached out to you to withdraw our funding. I apologize for Steve’s email, and assure you that Comcast’s funding of Reel Grrls will continue. Comcast has long been a proud sponsor of Reel Grrls and your youth leadership development programs designed to empower young women through media production. Your organization aligns with our company’s investment priorities, and your positive impact on the girls and women you serve in Washington is making a real difference here in Washington.”

Reel Grrls wrote in a follow-up Tweet today:

Thank you 2 EVERYONE for standing with us & showing so much support! The community response has been overwhelming. Thank you!! #mediajustice

Damage has certainly been done, but watching a small non profit fight back through social media channels such as YouTube and Twitter couldn’t have happened 10 years ago.

UPDATE: The Washington Post reports that Reel Grrls has decided to turn down the funds from Comcast. Reel Grrls is now seeking new funding for its organization, according to executive director Malory Graham.

“Given the serious questions Comcast’s initial decision to take punitive measures on our organization raised about the ability of corporations to stifle public discussion, we have decided to redesign our summer camp to focus on developing films about free press issues.”

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  • Anonymous

    Too bad.  This is too complicated a topic and a corporation for Reel Grrls to just sever ties, especially since it doesn’t seem they were asked to make changes to their program in any way.  One “unauthorized” person at a massive organization overstepped, and that massive organization ultimately did the right thing.

    It seems to me they threatened funding of their mission rather than take funding in a way that did not threaten their mission.  And they’re leaping right past an opportunity for a more challenging lesson: that large companies do right and wrong, by mistake and on purpose — and that, sometimes, you can influence that organization into correcting their mistakes.

    I don’t think Reel Grrls have the moral high ground to reject the entire organization here, only the specific, and very inappropriate, actions of Steve Kipp.

    Would’ve been nice to see them accept the apology and funds, have Comcast make clear to the public why Reel Grrls is an organization they want to invest in, and have Reel Grrls be willing to say why they want to work with Comcast, and also the things they’d like to see Comcast change.

  • Luis Antezana

    I’d bet they dropped Comcast not just over the funding flap but also the ethically stinky circumstance of Comcast giving a job to one of the FCC members who voted to approve their merger with NBC. I think it’s fantastic that a non-profit organization that clearly needs the money visibly lives an ethical position, and I’m sure that by doing so they’ll find themselves in alignment with a much more suitable partner.

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