I am in my 46th year as a business reporter. The same issue that troubled me at the Houston Business Journal in 1978 troubles me today.
That is, we believe anything sources tell us. Accordingly we follow the Golden Rule, the one that reads “He who has the gold makes the rules.” That’s why social media companies are now before Congress, pushing bullshit on Senators who are no longer buying it.
I feel like I failed them.
Stop Covering Up
Any publisher must balance the interests of advertisers and readers, but what happens when they’re the same people? Businesspeople naturally rush to defend any of their number they feel is being unjustly attacked.
But not all attacks are unjust. A journalist’s first job should be separating the just attacks from the unjust ones, even if it means biting the hand that feeds us. That’s how we serve our readers’ interest. That’s how we should serve business’ interest, by using our voice to push them down an ethical path
Lots of businesses cheat customers, employees, the environment, the tax man, even their shareholders. When that happens, the interest of every business is hurt.
But thanks to the cozy relationship between business and the business press, corrupt businesspeople feel anything can be covered up with a little PR. Even after illegality at Enron, Worldcom, Theranos and FTX was proven, the business press described it as a few “bad apples.”
Look at Boeing. Crashes of their 737s killed hundreds of people at the end of the last decade. As a result the company fired the CEO, promising to clean house under board member Dave Calhoun.
Four years later they’re facing the same problem. Calhoun is covering it up with PR, and promising to fix things. This is what he said when he got the job, in 2020. The culture that led to the problems isn’t changing. Our biggest exporter is being led down the primrose path toward its own destruction.
Boeing is not alone. Even the worst business practices are ignored by the business press. This leaves it to those on other beats to cover things they may not understand. CEOs feel they can act with impunity. Americans’ faith in our capitalistic system is said to be declining.
Ignorance is Not Bliss
The problem with “Young Americans increasingly prefer socialism,” is that it’s a false choice. Every global economy is capitalist.
Capitalism isn’t a political system. Capitalism is an economic system. It can thrive under many political systems, autocratic, socialist, libertarian, even feudal.
Sweden is capitalist, Russia is capitalist, and Argentina is capitalist. Their political systems are different. The question should be, how do Americans feel the interests of capital, labor, and society should be balanced. In a democracy this is an ongoing discussion, and politics is how we mediate it.
Our capitalist system is not threatened by taxes, or regulation, or any of the usual bogies. It’s threatened by ignorance. That ignorance is encouraged by a business press where publishers believe he who has the gold makes the rules.