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10/23/01


 

DEMOCRACY, GENERAL ELECTRIC STYLE

By David Podvin and Carolyn Kay

Shortly after George W. Bush declared his candidacy for president in June of 1999, General Electric Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jack Welch was contacted by Bush political advisor Karl Rove. Welch later informed associates that Rove told him a Bush administration would initiate comprehensive deregulation of the broadcast industry. Rove guaranteed that deregulation would be implemented in a way that would create phenomenal profits for conglomerates with significant media holdings, like GE. Rove forcefully argued that General Electric and the other media giants had a compelling financial interest to see Bush become president.

Welch told several people at GE that the conversation with Rove convinced him that a Bush presidency would ultimately result in billions of dollars of additional profits for General Electric. Welch believed that it was his responsibility to operate in the best interest of GE shareholders, and that now meant using the full power of the world’s biggest corporation to get Bush into the White House.

Toward that end, Welch said that he would finally deal with a longstanding grievance of his: the ludicrous idea that news organizations should be allowed to operate in conflict with the best interests of the corporations that own them.

Since the beginning of the country, it has been considered appropriate for the business community to exercise its right to aggressively support the candidate that best represented its interests. The new dimension that Welch introduced was the concept that the mainstream media should aggressively advance the political agenda of the corporations that own it. He did not see any difference between corporate journalism and corporate manufacturing or corporate service industries. Business was business, and the difference between winners and losers was profit, whether you were selling nuclear power or ads on the network news. From Welch’s perspective, it was insanity, not to mention bad business practice, for the corporate owners of the mainstream media to restrain themselves from using all of their assets to promote their financial well being.

In general, he saw corporate news organizations as untapped political resources that should be freed from the burden of objectivity.

Specifically, NBC News was an asset owned by the shareholders of General Electric. It existed to make profits and to serve the interests of those who owned GE stock. Period.

Anything else, Welch told associates, was “liberal bullshit”.

In 1988, NBC News president Lawrence Grossman insisted to Welch that news was a public trust and should not be subjected to the same pressure to make profits that was applied to other GE units. Welch fired him.

In 1999, the GE chairman decided that it was no longer good enough for NBC News to just be profitable. Seven years of a frequently uncooperative Democratic Administration, combined with the Rove-inspired vision of spectacular profits through deregulation, now motivated Welch to take action.

He began to aggressively, but very discreetly, evangelize the gospel of corporate media as corporate lobbying tool. It was not a new concept; in the opinion of many, it was already the status quo. But from Welch’s point of view, the corporate news organizations were not living up to their potential.

The mainstream media could make George W. Bush president.

That would be good for Americans who believed in free markets and the merit system, Welch said.

Better yet, it would help to make General Electric even more successful and dominant, which had been Welch’s obsession for decades.

Jack Welch believed that, despite earning millions annually in salary and bonuses, he was the most underpaid employee at GE. From the time he started running the company in 1981 to the end of 1999, the stock's total return (price appreciation and dividends) had been seven thousand percent. Given the brilliance of that performance, how could he possibly be overpaid, or even fairly paid? From Welch’s perspective, it was the pennies-per-hour workers in General Electric’s Asian sweatshops who were overpaid, because their individual contributions to the big picture were so meager.

The philosopher Ayn Rand wrote, “The actual performance of men in society is a constant, fierce, undefined struggle between the genius and the parasite…”

To Welch, although George W. Bush might not be a genius, his policies would encourage those who were geniuses to be even more innovative and productive. Fewer government regulations and lower corporate taxes would create technological advancement, thereby benefiting society more than all of the do-gooder social programs combined ever could. The country would be run for the benefit of the “A” people who achieved great things, not the “C” people who merely existed. In such a laissez faire environment, the powerful would be unshackled to become even more powerful, and no corporation in the world was more powerful than General Electric.

By contrast, Welch viewed Al Gore as the candidate of the parasites. Gore voters were not the generators of wealth; they were the consumers of taxes. Welch privately described the typical Gore voter as “someone who needs all these goddamned social programs because she’s too goddamned dumb to keep her legs crossed and too goddamned lazy to get an abortion.”

This view of the world led Welch to implore associates at GE that doing whatever it took to get George W. Bush into the presidency was not only good for General Electric, it was good for America.

Having satisfied himself that his cause was just, Welch focused on putting his candidate in the White House with the tireless determination of a man whom Business Week described as having “an unbridled passion for winning”.

He had previously personally reviewed the launch of CNBC. He now turned his attention to “reforming” the editorial content of NBC News. Welch had already secured his place as one of the business titans of the twentieth century. He expressed few regrets to confidantes, but he was wistful about his belief that GE would have made even more money if NBC News had just been tougher on a politically vulnerable Arkansas governor in 1992. With only about two years left prior to his mandatory retirement, one of Jack Welch’s last significant contributions would be to permanently eliminate the irrational belief that corporate journalists should ever be allowed to act in a way that damaged the corporate balance sheet.

For public consumption, he said the obligatory things about GE’s commitment to “journalistic integrity and independence”. Privately, he saw only two differences between his employees who reported the news and those who made toasters: one, the toaster makers were “less full of shit”, and, two, the journalists were not working in the best interests of the GE team.

This second point infuriated him. It galled Welch to hear what he considered to be holier-than-thou pronouncements of personal moral superiority coming from journalists whom he viewed to be inferior to himself in just about every conceivable way. GE signed their paychecks, and then in the name of “journalistic integrity and independence”, they reported things that damaged the company. NBC News had even publicized that the federal government caught a GE defense subsidiary stealing massive amounts of taxpayer money. From the Welch perspective, tolerating this kind of insubordination was crazy. He did not view reporters as guardians of the truth or gatekeepers of democracy; for the most part, he saw them as “leftist slackasses”.

Welch was absolutely determined to make his employees at NBC News finally genuflect to the most sacred words in his vocabulary: GE bottom line.

He perceived that there was a widely believed American myth of well-intended journalists selflessly seeking the truth, and that there would be hell to pay if a business leader like him were to overtly force reporters to be good corporate soldiers. So, being a very bright guy, he largely left the journalists at NBC alone.

Publicly.

In private, Welch was proud to have personally cultivated Tim Russert from a “lefty” to a responsible representative of GE interests. Welch sincerely believed that all liberals were phonies. He took great pleasure in “buying their leftist souls”, watching in satisfaction as former Democrats like Russert and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews eagerly discarded the baggage of their former progressive beliefs in exchange for cold hard GE cash. Russert was now an especially obedient and model employee in whom the company could take pride.

''It's a double-edged sword to be under Jack's detailed look,'' one GE executive told Fortune Magazine. ''If you do well, it's great. If you don't, it's bad news.”

It was bad news for NBC correspondent Claire Shipman, who made the mistake of offering a positive opinion of Al Gore on the air. Jack Welch, chairman and chief executive officer of a $350 billion conglomerate, responsible for overseeing the highly diversified activities of hundreds of thousands of employees working in over one hundred countries, was so incensed by her disobedience that he took time out of his busy schedule to personally confront her about it.

She no longer works for NBC. And her managing editor, Tom Brokaw, did not stand up for her right to journalistic independence from the corporate lord.

“I think Jack Welch’s the smartest boss I’ve ever had and he signs my paychecks,” said Brokaw, exhibiting a profound understanding of the situation.

Over the years, Welch had occasionally interfered with NBC News. During the 1987 stock market crash, he ordered Grossman to forbid his journalists from using the term “Black Monday” out of concern that a panic by investors would depress GE stock.

Welch has an explosive temper. When the chairman exploded at Shipman, Brokaw knew that, from the standpoint of journalistic integrity, the managing editor was obligated to rush to his reporter’s defense. Brokaw also knew that, from the standpoint of self-preservation, it was wise for the managing editor to obediently defer to the man who signed his paychecks.

The Welch mission was to tame the rest of them at NBC News, and to do so in a way that did not cause any journalistic prima donnas to attract unwanted public attention by openly revolting. Beyond that, Welch hoped to quietly convince other media conglomerates that the great visionary (himself) was once again in the vanguard of an exciting and highly profitable corporate trend: the total destruction of any wall that separated the newsroom from the boardroom.

Welch decided that the key factor in bringing the corporate newsrooms into line would be to change the process through which journalists were compensated and promoted. When he took over at GE, Welch believed that the way in which people were being advanced rewarded mediocrity. The unworthy candidates were being weeded out, but so were the most worthy. As in many companies, managers were hesitant to promote highly gifted subordinates who could later become rivals.

Welch has repeatedly been named the most admired executive in America, an assessment that he considered to be valid years before anyone outside GE had heard of him. His supreme self-confidence allowed him to demand that the best and the brightest be promoted, secure in the knowledge that no one could possibly be better or brighter than Jack Welch. As a result of aggressive management training that cost hundreds of millions of dollars, GE developed the strongest stable of managers in corporate America.

Welch believed that the promotion practices at NBC News encouraged disloyalty to General Electric. It was his observation that “journalistic excellence” seemed to be the flimsy, intangible standard for getting ahead in the news division. He decided that the criteria had to be changed to encourage loyal contributions to the employer, which was GE. The crucial step that Welch took was to make it well known throughout NBC News that the standard for the promotion of journalists would be the same as it was for every other employee in the corporation: outstanding contribution to the financial well being of General Electric.

The journalists who had their paychecks signed by Welch knew that favorable coverage of George W. Bush would be considered an outstanding contribution to the financial well being of General Electric.

In fairness, it should be noted that Jack Welch did not believe he was doing anything wrong by covertly maneuvering news coverage in favor of Bush.  Apparently, Jack Welch has never believed that he was doing anything wrong.

Author William Greider documented the criminal and civil record of General Electric during the late 1980s and early nineties. Over a five year period, Jack Welch’s company attempted to pay a $1.25 million bribe to a Puerto Rican official for a $92 million dollar power plant contract and three GE executives were imprisoned as a result; GE defrauded the army on a $254 million contract for battlefield computers and paid tens of millions of dollars in fines; GE allegedly overcharged the army for battle tank parts and paid a $900,000 settlement; GE paid a $32 million settlement for discriminating against women and minorities; GE defrauded the air force on a missile contract and paid $1 million in fines; GE was identified as being responsible for at least 47 Superfund toxic cleanup sites; GE paid a $3 million settlement for allegedly altering labor vouchers in order to overcharge the Pentagon on jet engine contracts; and  GE paid an undisclosed amount for knowingly selling defective nuclear reactor parts.

The scandals for Welch and General Electric continued through this year. Since 1992, GE has been forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in court judgments and fines for endangering Americans by illegally and repeatedly dumping toxic waste and chemicals, stealing from the military, operating unsafe workplaces, engaging in deceptive advertising, contaminating the Hudson and Housatonic Rivers, selling defective nuclear reactor parts (again), allowing safety violations at a fuel fabrication plant, polluting the air and contaminating the soil and groundwater in several states, creating asbestos-related health hazards in England, contaminating drinking water in Puerto Rico and bribing the Puerto Rico Water Resources Authority, polluting several northeastern states with PCBs, overcharging on mortgage insurance, practicing money laundering and unfair debt collection, bribing a foreign government, and knowingly broadcasting a phony news story. The company also had to admit that it invented three hundred fifty million dollars in nonexistent profits.

This is a partial list of the illegal activities perpetrated by General Electric under the leadership of Jack Welch. Mr. Welch claimed that the quickest way for a GE employee to get fired was to commit “an integrity violation”. Employees who committed the “integrity violation” of missing an earnings target usually did get fired; those who committed the “integrity violations” listed in the preceding two paragraphs rarely got fired.

America’s most admired executive prided himself on knowing every aspect of his company, but he also passionately declared that he was ignorant of all wrongdoing by his company. The leader who micromanaged GE to the point of insisting on reviewing the scripts for refrigerator commercials contends that he only learned after the fact that General Electric was constantly committing serious crimes.

Following the conversation with Rove, Welch instructed a subordinate to impress on senior NBC executives that the news division would now be expected to show the same unqualified devotion to General Electric that was required of every other unit. He was unusually circumspect because he realized that Clinton appointees in the Federal Communications Commission would have taken a dim view of his activities. Welch knew from his company’s countless run-ins with the law that the authorities could be outmaneuvered if things were handled with finesse.

He quietly began to dramatically change the way that things were done at NBC News. A link was established between the producers of the Sunday morning program Meet The Press and the opposition research team of the Republican Party. Delighted G.O.P. operatives were soon boasting that Tim Russert would go on the air just minutes after receiving their allegations of wrongdoing by Al Gore, and would repeat their charges verbatim. Russert was not functioning as a journalist; he had crossed the Rubicon and was acting as a mouthpiece for General Electric’s favorite political party.

Welch greatly appreciated Russert, whose multi-million dollar contract he personally negotiated. The message circulated throughout NBC News that Russert was an excellent role model for reporters who wanted to succeed in the organization. Reporters at NBC News did not have to be verbally instructed on how to get ahead; they clearly saw that the Russert approach was handsomely rewarded by top management.

Reporter Andrea Mitchell of NBC Nightly News was married to Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, who was a longtime Republican and protégé of Ayn Rand. Mitchell was a Welch favorite because he liked her “objectivity”, which meant that she never had a positive word to say about Democrats. After the election, it was Mitchell who repeatedly lied when reporting that Clinton aides had vandalized the White House and stolen from Air Force One. Bush operatives were later quoted as saying that the phony vandalism story was a big help in creating the desired contrast between the “sleazy” Clinton years and the “breath of fresh air” that George W. Bush wanted to represent. Mitchell never retracted or apologized when the Government Accounting Office proved that she had been dishonest, and she was never disciplined.

There is also no evidence of Mitchell ever being angrily confronted by Jack Welch.

Welch told associates that he enlisted two members of the GE board to assist him in shaping the coverage of the election by other news organizations. Robert Wright had previously been appointed by Welch to run NBC. Welch assigned him and his fellow GE board member, money center bank executive Sandy Warner, to use their contacts in broadcasting and finance. They quietly encouraged the executives of the mainstream media organizations to rethink the relationship between news divisions and business objectives.

Wright offered the carrot. Usually through underlings, he contacted the executives of America’s most influential media conglomerates. Bush held a huge post-impeachment lead over Gore in the early presidential polls. The executives were told that Bush was going to have a massive advantage in campaign finances, and that he was almost certainly going to be elected president. Under a Bush administration, the big media outfits would be free to prosper as never before, because the federal government would cease to put limitations on their operations and expansion. A Bush administration would mean untold riches for the industry.

Wright was also the former chief executive of GE Capital, a money center powerhouse that contributes more than a third of GE’s profits, and would be the nation’s twentieth largest corporation as a stand-alone company. He knew that General Electric would win big, even when it was not directly involved in the inevitable media mega-mergers that were certain to be approved by a Bush administration. According to Fortune Magazine, “Capital's growth comes in many forms, but nothing equals the bottom-line boost of a big acquisition.” GE would make huge profits by purchasing media conglomerates and by financing the deals of others.

Warner and his associates wielded the stick. As chairman of banking institution J.P. Morgan, he had great credibility when he argued that the key to winning the media competition in a laissez faire Bush era would be access to investment capital for the purpose of acquiring competitors. Those who had the best relationships with the big international banks, brokerage houses, and investment banking firms would be the predators; those who had trouble raising money would be the prey.

There were never any explicit threats, but the implication was unavoidable: Bush is going to win, so you can join the team now or you can be on the outside looking in later. The only thing that will be affected is your livelihood.

They did not have to use pressure tactics to convince Mel Karmazin of Viacom/CBS. Karmazin had always viewed news as an underprofitable millstone around the neck of the entertainment division. His vision was to make Viacom a vast network of interlocking media interests that would cross promote their products in order to maximize profit. Though CBS News had a reputation for being more liberal than its counterparts, Karmazin’s only political objective was to expand his business. The prospect of having an administration that would allow him to build an empire without interference was compelling.

Karmazin was also excited by assurances that Bush would appoint an ineffectual lackey to head the Federal Communications Commission. Karmazin’s Infinity Broadcasting had been acquired by CBS in the deal that gave him operational control of the entire network. Over the years, the FCC had fined Infinity millions of dollars because of the profane and lewd behavior of Karmazin’s most profitable broadcaster, Howard Stern. The Stern broadcasts generated massive profits and wonderful cross promotion, so the fines could have been viewed as the cost of doing a phenomenally profitable business. However, the painful aspect to Karmazin were the delays in approving broadcast mergers that occurred because FCC commissioners were alienated by Stern’s scornful defiance of them. Karmazin seethed at being harangued by the federal government just because his meal ticket spewed profane and racist epithets over the public airwaves, and performed social services like arranging for a high school boy to attend his prom with a porn star whose claim to fame was having intercourse with five hundred men in one day.

Millions of Americans supported Bush because they believed he would promote family values; Karmazin threw the support of CBS News behind Bush on the basis that family values were a campaign mirage, and that Bush had no intention of implementing them into public policy. While Bush has been president, Stern has continued to shout the same vulgarities and peddle the same sleaze over the air, but the intense pressure that was applied by the FCC during the Democratic era has not continued during the “family values” administration.

Karmazin personally contributed a thousand dollars each to the presidential campaigns of Vice President Al Gore and John McCain, who was the Senate chairman of the Commerce Committee before which Viacom would have to do business.

The contribution that George W. Bush received from Mel Karmazin was infinitely more valuable: uncritical coverage by CBS News. When Bush stumbled and lost the New Hampshire primary, and when he repeatedly tripped over his invented facts in the first debate, and even when he staggered at the very end of the campaign after having been caught lying about his drunk driving arrest, the adjective that CBS News reporters most frequently used to describe him was “likeable”. 

The attitude at ABC was an extension of the personality of Disney Chairman Michael Eisner. Eisner does not like those who make waves, as the host of Politically Incorrect recently learned. After Bill Maher said that it was cowardly of America to fight battles by launching missiles from a safe distance, Eisner went out of his way to very publicly slap Maher down. This episode provided outsiders with a rare glimpse inside the corporate culture of the happy company that Mickey Mouse built: do not rock the boat or you’re in trouble. “Eisner will always stand up for principle, no matter what the cost,” says a former Disney executive, “as long as that principle involves increasing his personal compensation.”

As a result, the candidate who held out the prospect of fabulous wealth for the broadcast industry got favorable coverage from ABC News. In fact, Bush received better coverage than Gore from the entire mainstream media.

A study produced by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Princeton Survey Research Associates examined 1,149 stories from 17 news publications, programs and websites. The research revealed that there were almost twice as many positive stories about Bush as there were about Gore. Even more important than this blatant pro-Bush bias, the study found that the coverage de-emphasized the philosophical differences between the candidates. This was critical, because public opinion polls showed that the voters agreed with Gore on the issues. By robbing Gore of his greatest advantage, the media organizations were Bush’s greatest allies.

A study by the Pew Research Center examined 2,400 newspaper, TV, and Internet stories. Researchers reported that three quarters of the coverage emphasized allegations that Gore was dishonest and corrupt. The study found that a majority of the stories about Bush emphasized that he was a "different kind of Republican," which was the Bush campaign’s chosen theme.

This was not a conspiracy, nor was it an accident. It was self-interest.

The rapacious values of the networks mirrored those in the management of print journalism and the banking community in general. The emphasis in private meetings and phone conversations was that Bush would definitely call off the federal watchdogs, which would allow the giant media conglomerates to grow as large as they chose. The inconvenient pretense of federally licensed broadcasters having to serve the public interest would finally be gone. Without the intrusive feds butting in, the media giants would be free to “maximize their potential”. Translated into English, this meant that the extraordinarily valuable public ownership and control of the airwaves would essentially be transferred to the media conglomerates for no cash down and monthly payments of zero.

“A promise made is a promise kept.” This was George W. Bush’s frequent pledge during the campaign, and when it came time to repay his media allies for providing him with an uncritical convoy to the White House, he kept his promise. Soon after assuming office, Bush appointed Colin Powell’s son to head the Federal Communications Commission. Michael Powell could not be doing a better job of aiding the media conglomerates at public expense if his name were Michael Welch, Michael Karmazin, or Michael Eisner, Jr. One of Powell’s first moves was to announce that the regulation prohibiting ownership of both television stations and newspapers in the same city is going to be changed. “There is something offensive to First Amendment values about that limitation,” he said.

There is something extraordinarily profitable to the media giants about having that limitation lifted. Without the federal government insisting on diversity in local markets, the vast multinational media corporations will be able to monopolize the flow of information in cities across America. Their potential for greater power and wealth is almost incalculable.

The deregulation of the American media, quietly promised by Bush and currently being implemented by Powell, will create countless billions of dollars of profits for the broadcasting industry. Al Gore opposed deregulation on the basis that a greater concentration of media power would damage the ability of the American people to get a diversity of information.

More than any other position he took, it cost him the presidency.

Welch’s successful behind-the-scenes campaign to influence media coverage in a way that would get Bush into the White House has not been visible to the public, with one exception. On election night, according to an eyewitness, Welch was so angry that his own NBC News team would not call the race for Bush that he personally went to the studio from which Tom Brokaw was anchoring the coverage. Welch quietly watched the broadcast for a few minutes. Two people who were present claim that, when Brokaw and Tim Russert did not take the hint that their boss had come into the newsroom because he wanted something from them, he explicitly announced that he wanted them to call the election for Bush.

They did. As a result, Bush entered the Florida recount phase with the tremendous advantage of having already been declared the winner.

Congressman Henry Waxman questioned NBC News president Andrew Lack about the incident. Waxman requested that Lack turn over to Congress the in-studio tapes that were recorded that night, so that what Welch had allegedly done could be verified. Lack, testifying under oath, agreed to do so.

As of this writing, he has refused to honor his commitment.

Aside from his one emotional faux pas on election night, Welch did a masterful job of discreetly maneuvering behind the scenes. He convinced his media conglomerate competitors that they all had a compelling interest in discarding journalistic objectivity and helping Bush into the presidency. For the public, the only telltale sign of the Welch effort was the end product: the campaign coverage itself. From the mainstream media’s unprecedented pre-primary build-up of George W. Bush to their declaration that he had won the Florida recount before all of the votes had been reviewed, never before has a presidential candidate received such active support from corporate journalism.

There were two men who had stood in the way of a George W. Bush presidency. Prior to facing Bush, John McCain and Al Gore both had reputations for being decent men who had honorably served their country in Vietnam and Washington. Based on their résumés, each of them was much more qualified to be president than Bush.

After the mainstream media got through with them, the two men were hardly recognizable. In the Republican primaries, McCain was recast from an ethical war hero to a mentally unbalanced flake who was in favor of breast cancer and whose wife was a junkie. In the general election, Gore was transformed from a bright and decent public servant into a congenital liar, a delusional criminal, and a traitor.

At the same time, George W. Bush somehow managed to fecklessly stumble through the entire campaign obstacle course without being harmed by his almost total lack of leadership experience, his highly suspicious military record, his two decades of alcohol and drug abuse, his alleged involvement in an illegal abortion, his shady business dealings, his record of corruption while governor of Texas, his losing battle with the English language, his unfortunate habit of repeatedly being caught telling blatant lies, and his positions on the major issues that consistently conflicted with the majority of voters. It helped that his opponent was unwilling to go for the jugular; it helped even more that the mainstream media considered any and all Bush vulnerabilities to be “charming”.

The only real harm that the media did to Bush during the whole campaign was the revelation that he had been arrested for drunk driving in Maine. This story was not broken by ABC or NBC or CBS or The New York Times or the Washington Post or any member of the media Consortium; it was made public by a relatively obscure newspaper in Maine. In fact, the immediate reaction by all of the aforementioned media giants was to falsely accuse Gore of leaking the story. This flailing, ad hominem defense of their chosen candidate betrayed a certain unhappiness on the part of the mainstream media that the news of Bush having lied about his crime had become public knowledge.

The New York Times typified the mainstream media’s coverage of the 2000 election. The editorial board of the Times officially endorsed Al Gore for president, but it is the news section of the Times that is the common reference point, and that sets the tone for the rest of the media’s day to day coverage. In the all-important news section of The New York Times, George W. Bush was being followed by softer than mush reporter Frank Bruni, whose coverage of the candidate was so lovingly tender that Bush identified Bruni as “my favorite reporter”.

The Times reporter who was assigned to track Gore was Katherine Seelye, who sat on the campaign plane alongside her pal Ceci Connolly of the Washington Post. Together with the Times’ Richard Berke, they were able to wreak a level of havoc on the Gore campaign that the Bush team never even came close to approaching. Between them, these reporters who were working for America’s two leading “liberal” newspapers managed to falsely accuse Gore of taking credit for having invented the Internet, falsely accuse Gore of claiming to have discovered the toxic waste at Love Canal, and falsely accuse Gore of lying about being the inspiration for the male lead character in “Love Story”.

They also falsely accused Gore of insisting that he had been serenaded to sleep as a child to the tune of “Look For The Union Label”. The candidate had actually been making a joke that was greeted with laughter by his union audience.

After the crucial first presidential debate, the unholy triumvirate falsely accused Gore of lying about an anecdote involving an old lady and her prescription medicine (the lady confirmed Gore’s account), falsely accused Gore of lying about an anecdote involving a Florida schoolgirl having to stand in class because of equipment shortages (the girl confirmed Gore’s account), and falsely accused Gore of lying about going to a fire in Texas with the head of FEMA (it was actually the number two man at FEMA, but the mainstream media did not allow for the possibility that Gore made inadvertent mistakes).

These phony accusations, not the Times low impact endorsement, had a major effect on the campaign. Every time Gore generated some momentum, the three deceitful journalists wrote of another unsubstantiated allegation that claimed the Democratic nominee was crazed with a compulsion to lie.

The New York Times Company and The Washington Post Company will both make massive deregulation-related profits under Bush that they could never have gained under Gore. Their reporters who lied about Gore were never punished, just as Andrea Mitchell of NBC was never punished for repeatedly lying about White House vandalism. In fact, all of these dishonest reporters have greatly prospered.

Once again, it is wrong to confuse self-interest with conspiracy. This is the Welch paradigm in action: It is the job of corporate reporters to help advance the corporate cause. There was no conspiracy on the part of the mainstream media organizations to usher Bush into the presidency. There was also no conspiracy on the part of the mainstream media organizations to lie, en masse, about Clinton aides vandalizing the White House and burglarizing Air Force One.

But the mainstream media organizations did lie.

Some people have expressed skepticism that at least one intrepid corporate reporter has not revealed the truth about what transpired in 2000. If the charges of the mainstream media coordinating an effort at the highest levels to skew their campaign coverage in favor of Bush were true, the skeptics contend, then certainly one reputable mainstream reporter would have gone public with the story.

Daniel Schorr has been enshrined in the Hall of Fame of the Society of Professional Journalists. In 1976, he was fired by CBS News when he sent a secret congressional intelligence report to the Village Voice after CBS had refused to reveal the story to the public. According to Schorr, he was punished by network executives who had reached a deal with the White House to go easy on the administration.

Schorr was fired for reporting the truth when it conflicted with the interests of his employer.

Two Fox News reporters in Tampa, Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, assembled a report revealing the covert use of a potentially harmful synthetic milk-producing hormone that was being injected into dairy cows throughout much of America. Fox executives killed the story out of concern that the dairy industry would retaliate by refusing to purchase commercials on the network. The reporters were so concerned about the safety of consumers that they defied their bosses and released the report to the public. Fox immediately fired them.

Akre and Wilson were fired for reporting the truth when it conflicted with the interests of their employer.

NBC’s own Arthur Kent was a star foreign correspondent after gaining fame as the intrepid “Scud Stud” during the Gulf War. But when Kent was reassigned to the NBC news magazine Dateline, he was appalled to see what corporate journalism in America had become.

“A climate was being created in which corruption was imminent,” Kent told the Ottawa Sun. “Once I had been convinced to join Dateline, I warned them in writing that the editorial direction of the program was dangerous and that the manipulation and re-editing of stories was going to cause trouble."

Kent offered to resign, but Jack Welch would not allow an uncooperative journalist to get off the hook quite that easily. Kent was reassigned to cover the war in Bosnia under ridiculously hazardous conditions. When he refused, NBC publicly called him a coward, effectively ending his career with the network.

After an expensive battle, Kent won a court ordered apology and substantial financial damages. He stated that the important aspect of the trial was the revelation of how General Electric and NBC now operate.

“It was a GE-style, hardball approach: If you're not going to work for us, you're not going to work for anybody,” he said. "They were seen by the public to have lied.”

But the ethical journalist who called them on their lies had now gone off to Europe in search of a country with freedom of the press. And every journalist who remained at NBC learned from watching the Kent episode that insisting on telling the truth in their reports was extremely hazardous to their vocational health.

Kent was fired for demanding to report the truth when it conflicted with the interests of his employer.

The process of natural selection is the answer to the skeptics who question why no mainstream journalist has reported on this matter. The mainstream reporters who had the integrity to tell the truth, even if doing so would get them fired, have already been fired. The reporters who currently work for corporate news outlets keep their jobs by obeying the implicit corporate rules that have been put in place by executives like Jack Welch.

If not for the successful effort by Welch to manipulate media coverage of the election and the Florida recount, George W. Bush would not be president today. The Consortium ballot study was started by the same forces that had carried Bush across the finish line. The study was their attempt to universally legitimize the Bush presidency at a time when it looked as though there would otherwise be congressional gridlock that would limit how much Bush could accomplish for his campaign contributors.

Welch and the others who have been involved in covertly promoting Bush interests did not expect that the ballot study would reveal a decisive Gore victory. Although Consortium members disingenuously claim that the outcome of the study is unknown, they are aware that the observers in the coding rooms who were familiar with Florida voting patterns were able to perceive a dominant Gore trend.

The members of the Consortium are now stuck with a result that they view as being counterproductive to attaining their financial objectives. There is increasing recognition on the part of the public that something about the current delay in publishing the ballot study is not kosher.

The public pressure to release the results is making it likely that the   Consortium will feel the need to reveal something. The precedent in this situation is the Miami Herald method of distortion, wherein the recount numbers proved that Gore won but the headlines claimed that Bush won. The Consortium could reprise that approach.

It could seek to obscure and confuse the situation by having various Consortium members issue conflicting accounts of who won. This would explain why the Wall Street Journal is participating in a recount after editorializing that any further recounts would be “un-American”.

A likely scenario would consist of a claim that, “Gore probably got a few more votes than Bush, but it really was too close to call, and the Consortium members can’t even agree among themselves who won, so it is impossible to ever really know for certain.”

It is now improbable that the Consortium will claim that Bush got the most votes because too many people who are intimately familiar with the process would publicly refute such a blatant lie.

Patriots who believe that democracy must be more than an empty cliché, and who want the unvarnished truth about the real winner of the 2000 presidential election, are severely limited in what they can do. We live in a pseudo democracy that has neither a free mainstream press nor a functioning opposition party. The current occupant of the White House is illegitimate by any standard other than “the ends justify the means”. The Supreme Court is corrupt. Most Americans have “moved on” and “gotten over it”.

For the minority in this country, those who are emotionally capable of confronting unpleasant facts, the truth is as clear as it is unpopular: America is now a place in which the son of a former leader who used to control the secret police was appointed to run the country by his daddy’s judges after his brother pulled an electoral fast one for him in the southern part of the country. The military contributed to the outcome by accusing the opposition leader of being “unpatriotic”, and by demanding that illegally cast military votes for Bush be counted as valid. The mainstream media protects its financial interests by smearing any dissidents as “fringe people”.

Many Americans prefer to dismiss these contentions as a “conspiracy theory”. Doing so is far less painful than coming to terms with the fact that this type of election result happens routinely around the world, but only in countries where self-government is rhetoric instead of reality. We are programmed from early childhood to recite that America is a democracy, yet even the most powerful programming is vulnerable to being overwhelmed by the truth. The unresolved question is how much truth will be required before it registers with the general public that they really have lost, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the right to have their votes counted.

In 2000, Americans witnessed convoluted vote counting methods in Florida that were designed to disqualify as many voters as it took in order to declare that the winner was the candidate who received fewer votes statewide and nationally. We saw a Supreme Court decision that was so surrealistically disgraceful that none of the five members of the majority was willing to claim authorship of it and, for the only time in the history of the Court, the majority declared that its decision did not establish a precedent.

There was no conspiracy involved in the Supreme Court decision, either. There was only the self-interest of five amoral judges taking advantage of an opportunity to increase their power by disregarding the law and selecting a president who would add to their conservative majority.

The Consortium now has ironclad proof that the wrong man is in the White House, and the mainstream media preemptively insist that it doesn’t matter. NBC News analyst and Welch protégé Tim Russert recently said, “The issue of legitimacy has been resolved.” He does not want the results of the ballot study to be released.

Neither does Mr. Berke of The New York Times, a member of the Consortium. Berke recently wrote that releasing the results would be divisive, and that it really doesn’t matter who won. It is unusual, to say the least, for a reporter to write that a project on which his newspaper has just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars doesn’t matter. It is even more unusual for the paper to then publish such heresy.

Of course, Berke knows that reporting the truth would not be divisive if the ballot study had proven that the man who really won the election is currently president. Berke has at least one contact inside the ballot study who has also spoken with MakeThemAccountable. We can therefore report with certainty that Mr. Berke wrote his rationalization for withholding the truth only after he was informed by an inside source that the study definitively proves that Al Gore won Florida.

Berke also claimed that the reason the Consortium members have delayed releasing the results of the ballot study is that the war on terrorism has monopolized the attention of all of their political reporters. This is an uncommonly transparent lie, even for the congenitally dishonest Mr. Berke. He is a political reporter who works for a Consortium paper, and his own attention has not been monopolized by the war on terrorism. He has spent his time since September 11 continuing his two-year disinformation campaign to sell George W. Bush to the American people. Berke wrote on October 20 that Gore supporters are privately expressing to him that they are “relieved” that the Supreme Court selected Bush to be president.

Brave reporters like Walter Cronkite are now distant memories of the pre-Welch era of journalism; the modern guardians of the truth are opportunistic prostitutes like Tim Russert and abject liars like Richard Berke. It is difficult to find any journalists in the corporate media who believe that the true outcome of the balloting in Florida matters. The people whose lives are supposedly dedicated to reporting the truth are adamant that, in the case of which candidate actually won the presidency, reporting the truth just doesn’t matter.

In a democracy, it would matter. In a democracy, the identity of the person who was given the right to govern by the voters would be of paramount importance. In a democracy, the will of the people would be the single most important story possible, even more important than salacious stories about Democratic officials cavorting with Washington interns.

Who won the election does not matter when there is General Electric style democracy. GE has a long history of participating in governance around the world. The company has protected its financial interests by involving itself through active intervention and bribes in Indonesia, Mexico, Lesotho, Egypt, Israel, and Japan, among other countries.

For many years, human rights activists have cautioned that allowing multinational corporations to impose their will on people in foreign countries is a dangerous policy. There have been warnings that one day, corporations like General Electric might not feel constrained to limit their interference in the leadership selection process to places like Indonesia. They might decide that there is nothing sacred about national boundaries anywhere. Liberals have been called paranoid for warning that the same corporations that tampered with governments in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia would eventually decide that the will of the voters in the United States is not sacrosanct, either.

In 2000, the paranoid warnings became reality. General Electric and like-minded interests were able to defy the will of the majority of the American people and drag into the White House the least qualified major party presidential candidate in the history of the country. Since gaining office, George W. Bush has been slavishly devoted to enacting the corporate agenda. Even during a time of war, he has been focused on relentlessly advocating the interests of those who made him president.

Six days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bush FCC appointee Michael Powell announced a ruling that affected corporations having licenses to operate 130 UHF TV stations broadcasting on certain frequencies. The FCC gave the media companies approval to sell those taxpayer-owned licenses and keep the tens of billions of dollars that will be generated by the sales.

It was never a conspiracy. It was always greed.

The corporate elite and their media Consortium have literally hundreds of billions of reasons to do what it takes to keep Bush in power. Whether they ever publicly report the inconvenient truth of the decisive Gore victory is problematic. It ultimately depends on whether the American people are so insistent in their demand to see the accurate outcome, that continuing to conceal the truth will cause more trouble for the media conglomerates than it is worth to them.

In the absence of overwhelming public pressure by citizens who value democracy more than multinational corporations value money, the members of the Consortium will honor the paradigm of Jack Welch: They will disregard all principles of journalism, in order to do what is best for the corporate bottom line.

Epilogue: Jack Welch retired as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of General Electric on September 7, 2001. According to Business Week, “Welch's leadership style has become so embedded in the organization that even his retirement is unlikely to erode his impact”. He is currently employed as a management consultant to major corporations that he refuses to identify.

Podvin on the Media

Podvin, the Series

 


Last changed: December 13, 2009