Monday, October 3, 2022


When Business Journalists Turn into Geopoliticians.

March 30, 2022 by  
Filed under Money/Business, News, Politics, Weekly Columns

(Akiit.com) There’s a pressure campaign afoot in much of the national business media to confront American companies that have maintained operations in Russia. Dozens of firms have pulled out of the country and it is easy to see why they’d recoil from a thuggish kleptocrat state that is actively killing civilians in a misbegotten war on its neighbors.

Naturally, the Biden Administration is encouraging those actions since they align with its sanctions policy on Russia and Democratic Party leaders have been keen to urge companies via the press to withdraw rightthisveryminute.

But because so few politicians and even fewer journalists have ever run a business, the rhetoric and the coverage might as well have been written in crayon. As any MBA student learns on the first day, it ain’t that easy.

Unmentioned in much of the go-out-of-business chorus, for example, is the brutal moral dilemma that these companies are facing. The Russian government has explicitly threatened to jail the executives and employees of any firm that pulls up stakes. For a corporate leader, that means your dedicated and long-serving teammates will face a knock on the door from Putin thugs carrying AK-47s.

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Here’s another grueling problem – investors will suffer too. That’s because Russia has also insisted it will confiscate the property and operations of any company that departs. Mom and pop investors on fixed incomes or teachers or firefighters will all take a hit to their retirement savings when those profitable holdings evaporate with a wave of Putin’s scepter.

Remember too that most of these companies got into Russia in the first place at the encouragement of the US government, in the hopes of bringing that benighted country into the global economy and rule of law. Now they are being hounded to flush those investments down the drain because Samantha Power and Andrea Mitchell have changed their minds.

No journalist better typifies this blinkered agitprop better than CNBC’s Brian Schwartz, who’s been banging his high chair for more than a week about how Koch Industries remains in Russia. Koch you’ll recall has long been the business bogeyman of choice for the Democratic National Committee since the company’s leaders openly advocates for free markets and deregulation, a cardinal sin in the leftist orthodoxy.

Schwartz has gladly indulged the scripted outrage from Democratic party leaders, insisting that no elected officials should accept contributions from Koch until the company does as the White House prefers and scuttles its plants in Russia that manufacture mostly window pane glass. He has also been going door-to-door on Capitol Hill asking members when they will return Koch contributions – and he’s even keeping an activist-style scorecard to track which Congresspeople knuckle under to his strong-arming.

But there’s a problem with Schwartz’s journalism that distinguishes it from the more ordinary Koch-bashing that Beltway scribes are routinely glad to carry out when their Democratic patrons suggest it. That’s because all of the sources that Schwartz is quoting and relying on are themselves taking campaign contributions from other, often much larger companies that also remain in Russia.

AstraZeneca, for instance, has given high-five figure sums to a host of congressional Democrats so far this year, and much higher largesse in the last two cycles.

Schumer, Kaine, Carper, Koons, and a long list of others in the leadership have gotten checks. Schwartz is no doubt aware of this because it can be discovered online in less than five minutes, apparently he just doesn’t think anyone will notice the blatant omission.

There scores of other examples including big-dollar, ongoing contributions from SC Johnson, PPG, Credit Suisse, and Ball Corporation – all of which remain in Russia and are lavishly bankrolling Democratic leadership.

To read Schwartz’s puppetteered copy, a reader would think Koch alone is defying the righteous demands of Saint Charles Schumer of New York. But the actual roster of firms that are still in Russia is a who’s-who of the Fortune 500. That includes bold-face names like Colgate, Halliburton, General Mills, Hilton, Hyatt, Kimberly-Clark. Pssst, hey Brian Schwartz, you see that guy John Kerry on the president’s diplomatic team? His wife’s company, Kraft-Heinz, is doing the same exact thing you are complaining about.

The list scrolls for pages. Mars, Nestle, Pfizer, Cargill, P&G, Subway, and Glaxo. So can the Democratic leaders so generously sourced in CNBC’s copy now expect a phone call from Brian Schwartz asking when contributions from those firms will be returned?

Of course not, because the point here is not to inform readers or help investors – it’s for Brian Schwartz to demonstrate his reliability to the political leaders in power. You might think that a news outlet singularly focused on covering American industry would understand there’s slightly more complexity to these operational decisions than Jen Psaki imagines.

It’s even tempting to think that Schwartz’s one-man Beltway bandwagon has escaped the notice of his editors at CNBC HQ just outside New York. But to do that, you’d have to buck another trend and take it on faith that NBC’s journalists are strictly objective, don’t pick sides, care about accuracy, and never take part in ideological campaigns.

If you believe that, I’ve got bridge over the Moscow River to sell you.

Columnist; Christian Josi


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