By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Once upon a time, large corporations and their executives typically avoided any public discussion of their politics because partisan positions alienated customers and employees. But all of that changed after GE bought NBC in 1986. The NBC peacock was literally flipped from left to right. As the story goes, this was done so the bird was looking forward, not back. Yeah, right. Maybe we should applaud Viacom’s Redstone for being aboveboard about his loyalties. So is News Corp.’s Murdoch. (Forget the little fact that Murdoch’s No. 2, Peter Chernin, has endorsed Kerry, or that Redstone’s co-president, Les Moonves, is an avowed Democrat. It’s meaningless because Murdoch and Redstone are media owners, not renters.)
And Time Warner’s chairman and CEO, Dick Parsons, doesn’t need to articulate his politics since he’s a Republican insider from way back. After Parsons nailed the top score on the New York state bar exam, he caught the eye of the late Nelson A. Rockefeller and even lived in Rockefeller’s compound for a time, eventually becoming a trustee of the former vice president’s estate after Rockefeller’s death in 1979. Parsons also is a former law partner of Rudy Giuliani and even managed Giuliani’s transition into the NYC Mayor’s Office. Who better to have at Time Warner’s helm than a GOP insider when the SEC is investigating your company?
Officially, GE (NBC’s parent company) chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt has yet to publicly declare himself politically. But anyone who spends time with him knows which way he blows. “He’s as right-wing as they come,” an insider tells L.A. Weekly. “Just as bad as Bob Wright.”
Wright, now GE’s vice chairman but also NBC’s long-term boss, never tried to hide his Republican partisanship because he never had to. For seemingly eons, his mentor and Immelt’s predecessor, Jack Welch, was a rabid right-winger. Welch used to boast openly about helping turn former liberals Chris Matthews and Tim Russert into neocons. And Los Angeles Representative Henry Waxman is still waiting for GE to turn over those in-house tapes that would prove once and for all whether Welch in 2000 ordered his network and cable stations to reverse course and call the election for Bush instead of Gore that election night.
As for Immelt, he uses all the Republican buzzwords with obvious ease. Complain about GE’s job outsourcing and he labels it “class warfare.” And he declared to Fox News’ business anchor, Neil Cavuto, that he wished his own network’s MSNBC talk TV could be “as interesting and edgy as you guys are. I think the standard right now is Fox.” MSNBC and increasingly CNBC as well are Fox News clones.
In return, Immelt is beginning to bag Republican perks, like appointment to President Bush’s Commission on Social Security. Besides all those lucrative U.S. defense contracts, his GE has snagged $450 million of orders in Iraq alone in 2003, and an apparent $3 billion more over the next few years. Plus, more than half of Iraq’s power grid is GE technology. Even before the fighting there started, Immelt told CNBC it was a GE business opportunity. “We built about a billion-dollar security business that’s going to be growing by 20 percent a year, so we’ve been able to play into that.”
Nor does it hurt that GE recently installed Anna Perez, a former Bush adviser to W and Condi who also served as press secretary to former first lady Barbara Bush, as NBC Universal’s executive vice president of communications.
Then there’s Disney’s Michael Eisner. As the longtime chairman and CEO, Eisner was never in the league of MCA/Universal’s Lew Wasserman, inarguably the most active Democratic activist of the media-mogul crowd. In contrast to Wasserman’s huge effort to get Hollywood-wide support for Jimmy Carter back in 1976, Eisner, while a Democrat, made just a small personal effort on behalf of the primary campaigns for his buddies Bob Kerry and Bill Bradley.
But that was then and this is now. Disney has turned most of ABC’s extensive radio network and owned-and-operated stations into a 24/7 orgy of right-wing talk. Disney’s chief lobbyist, Preston Padden, is not only one of Washington, D.C.’s most infamous Republican lobbyists, but he used to work for Rupert Murdoch. And Padden was set to use all of his considerable influence in Congress and the White House on Disney’s behalf if that big bad Goliath, Comcast, really tried to gobble up the Mouse House. As a result, no one thought it just coincidental when W pleaded just days after 9/11 for Americans “to return to the kind of lives we were leading before [that], especially air travel. Get on board. Do your business around the country. Fly and enjoy America’s great destination spots. Go down to Disney World in Florida; take your families and enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed.” It was as close to a White House commercial for Disney as any corporation could dare hope.
Then Bush followed that up weeks later with a PR visit to Orlando, Florida, where the Magic Kingdom had suffered a 25 percent drop in ticket sales, where a national photo showed the theme park’s deserted entrance. And since then, in addition to the usual tax breaks from W’s brother, Jeb, Disney World has benefited from special security measures, including extra protection and a federally declared “no flyover zone.”