White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s rise to power as the President Whisperer comes on the heels of his leadership of Breitbart News, the alt-right website which has a reputation for espousing anti-Semitic views. Prior to Bannon’s involvement in politics, however, he was involved in a Hollywood deal giving him a small ownership stake in Seinfeld two years prior to its syndication. Unsurprisingly, when news about Bannon profiting from the show reached co-created Larry David, he was pretty, pretty, pretty pissed off.
In a recent New Yorker profile about Bannon, David expressed his shock and disappointment at Bannon’s partial ownership of Seinfeld. “I don’t think I ever heard of him until he surfaced with the Trump campaign,” he said. “I had no idea that he was profiting from the work of industrious Jews!” Rob Reiner, one of the founders of the Seinfeld production company, Castle Rock Entertainment, added, “It makes me sick.”
Still, the extent of Bannon’s ownership and profit from Seinfield is murky at best. According to Bloomberg, Bannon claimed when Westinghouse Electric hired his firm to sell Castle Rock Entertainment in 1992, he pushed the company to take Ted Turner’s offer of a stake in five shows. Bannon claimed Westinghouse responded, “If this is such a great deal, why don’t you defer some of your cash fee and keep an ownership stake in that package of TV rights?” Bannon said okay; Seinfeld was one of those shows.
During the New Yorker’s investigation into the veracity of the claims, reporter Connie Bruck was unable to find records of payments to Bannon. However, it’s possible his deal was capped and paid out between Seinfeld’s syndication in fall 1995 and Turner Broadcasting’s merger with Time Warner in late 1995. Following the deal, Turner’s Castle Rock came under the Warner Bros. umbrella and the company started sending out all of profit-participation statements. Prior records from the earlier months of syndication are not readily available.
On the other hand, when Bannon submitted an “income and expense declaration” during a contentious court battle with his ex-wife, any Seinfeld profit participations should’ve shown up. The New Yorker surmises either the profits weren’t substantial or Bannon failed to disclose them in a sworn statement.
Either way, it’s a wild story. Even the idea of a white nationalist profiting off a show that was once considered “Too New York, too Jewish” could only happen in America 2017.