CEO’s Letter: The Least Responsible Industry of the Year


By Elliot Clark

Usually if I wanted to discuss bad behavior, I would single out a specific company for some egregious action, but I cannot distinguish one company as more villainous than the others in the industry that earns the “least responsible” prize this year. What do you think the position of Corporate Responsibility Magazine would be if a company consistently tried to sell a product that is not what they claim it is? I think we would be pretty outraged. And we are outraged, but the industry we need to decry is our own. I am embarrassed to be part of the media. To be clear: this is my opinion. I will not be offering opinion-based copy as impartial journalistic fact. But, I may be the last of a dying breed.

To be fair, maybe I am giving the media too much credit. In the most recent (2016) Gallup poll of U.S. consumers, only 24 percent believe the media is not biased, and only 32 percent trust the media. I spoke about my concerns at the COMMITIForum on Oct. 18. This year, the media successfully diverted and distracted from—and disregarded even—the basic rules of journalism. This presidential election will certainly go down in history. How much further down is still unclear.

How did we wind up with the two worst choices for president in modern history? The media played a role. One candidate was a narcissistic, egomaniac with literally no qualifications, and the other was possibly the most corrupt politician of the decade. Well, you focus on personality and sizzle. To be fair, America is tired of the disseminations of career politicians, but in spite of the negative reporting on Trump, he was so good for ratings that no other politician could get air time or notice. I believe the media made Donald J. Trump. Meanwhile, as populism spread, the media colluded (particularly CNN) along with the DNC to ensure that the Democratic nominee was Hillary Clinton. Why? Because it was “her turn”? Do politicians inherit turns outside of, say, North Korea?

For the record, I hope president-elect Trump does a good job because I have no other choice … now. According to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s recent study on media coverage by major news outlets, 75 percent of coverage for Trump was negative and 25 percent was positive over the news cycle. The negative coverage of Clinton was at 56 percent, but there is still evidence of media bias. UCLA also found evidence of this in their study of the coverage. Newsflash for the mass media outlets: 68 percent of people don’t trust you and 76 percent think you are biased, so clean up your act (see Gallup poll data above). I am not, for the record, validating Donald Trump’s statements on the media, but I am saying that his disdain for American media is shared by the majority, and the public’s disdain existed before his campaign.

For example, if I had to sit through one more CNN panel of experts flagrantly ignoring reason in order to support their candidate’s latest screw up, I was going to move to Borneo. But even when the panels were representing both sides, they were stacked to have more support for the left than the right. Everybody knows it. Stop selling that as analysis and admit it is spin. Millennial are smarter about media channels, and they watch The Daily Show because if it is going to be biased it might as well be entertaining and admit it is “entertainment.”

These media companies also have pretty bad track records when it comes to corporate responsibility. One of the largest media news service providers just slashed its corporate responsibility budget substantially, but, at the same time, proclaimed to us that this doesn’t change their deep commitment to corporate responsibility. I must have been wearing my “I’m with Stupid” T-shirt that has a finger pointing at my own chest because it is insulting to suggest that both could be true.

None of the media giants, such as Turner Broadcasting, Fox, Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters, or any of the print companies, even appear on our 100 Best Corporate Citizens list. Turner Broadcasting (just because I have a real issue with CNN smugly claiming it practices journalism) has a CR page as of Nov. 28, 2016 with two broken links for pictures that won’t load. My guess is no one in authority has visited it in quite some time.

If all of these media companies were really concerned about “serving” the communities in which they operate, they would do more with CR and be much more responsible to the consumers whose eyeballs drive their ad revenue. But they aren’t responsible, and I hope the price we all pay for their ratings success is not too high—because we have all been ripped off.

Elliot H. Clark

Posted December 12, 2016 in Business Ethics