[THS] Chris Hedges: How the Corporations Broke Ralph Nader and America, Too
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Tue Apr 6 16:27:35 CEST 2010
How the Corporations Broke Ralph Nader and America, Too
By Chris Hedges
April 05, 2010 "Truthdig" - -Ralph Naders descent from being one of the most
respected and powerful men in the country to being a pariah illustrates the totality of
the corporate coup. Naders marginalization was not accidental. It was orchestrated
to thwart the legislation that Nader and his allieswho once consisted of many in the
Democratic Partyenacted to prevent corporate abuse, fraud and control. He was
targeted to be destroyed. And by the time he was shut out of the political process
with the election of Ronald Reagan, the government was in the hands of
corporations. Naders fate mirrors our own.
The press discovered citizen investigators around the mid-1960s, Nader told me
when we spoke a few days ago. I was one of them. I would go down with the press
releases, the findings, the story suggestions and the internal documents and give it
to a variety of reporters. I would go to Congress and generate hearings. Oftentimes I
would be the lead witness. What was interesting was the novelty; the press gravitates
to novelty. They achieved great things. There was collaboration. We provided the
newsworthy material. They covered it. The legislation passed. Regulations were
issued. Lives were saved. Other civic movements began to flower.
Nader was singled out for destruction, as Henriette Mantel and Stephen Skrovan
point out in their engaging documentary movie on Nader, An Unreasonable Man.
General Motors had him followed in an attempt to blackmail him. It sent an attractive
woman to his neighborhood Safeway supermarket in a bid to meet him while he was
shopping and then seduce him; the attempt failed, and GM, when exposed, had to
issue a public apology.
But far from ending their effort to destroy Nader, corporations unleashed a much
more sophisticated and well-funded attack. In 1971, the corporate lawyer and future
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell wrote an eight-page memo, titled Attack on
American Free Enterprise System, in which he named Nader as the chief nemesis of
corporations. It became the blueprint for corporate resurgence. Powells memo led to
the establishment of the Business Roundtable, which amassed enough money and
power to direct government policy and mold public opinion. The Powell memo
outlined ways corporations could shut out those who, in the college campus, the
pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, were hostile to corporate
interests. Powell called for the establishment of lavishly funded think tanks and
conservative institutes to churn out ideological tracts that attacked government
regulation and environmental protection. His memo led to the successful effort to
place corporate-friendly academics and economists in universities and on the
airwaves, as well as drive out those in the public sphere who questioned the rise of
unchecked corporate power and deregulation. It saw the establishment of
organizations to monitor and pressure the media to report favorably on issues that
furthered corporate interests. And it led to the building of legal organizations to
promote corporate interests in the courts and appointment of sympathetic judges to
It was off to the races, Nader said. You could hardly keep count of the number of
right-wing corporate-funded think tanks. These think tanks specialized, especially
against the tort system. We struggled through the Nixon and early Ford years, when
inflation was a big issue. Nixon did things that horrified conservatives. He signed into
law OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency and air and water pollution acts
because he was afraid of the people from the rumble that came out of the 1960s. He
was the last Republican president to be afraid of liberals.
The corporations carefully studied and emulated the tactics of the consumer
advocate they wanted to destroy. Ralph Nader came along and did serious
journalism; that is what his early stuff was, such as Unsafe at Any Speed, the
investigative journalist David Cay Johnston told me. The big books they [Nader and
associates] put out were serious, first-rate journalism. Corporate America was terrified
by this. They went to school on Nader. They said, We see how you do this. You
gather material, you get people who are articulate, you hone how you present this
and the corporations copy-catted him with one big differencethey had no regard
for the truth. Nader may have had a consumer ideology, but he was not trying to sell
you a product. He is trying to tell the truth as best as he can determine it. It does not
mean it is the truth. It means it is the truth as best as he and his people can
determine the truth. And he told you where he was coming from.
The Congress, between 1966 and 1973, passed 25 pieces of consumer legislation,
nearly all of which Nader had a hand in authoring. The auto and highway safety
laws, the meat and poultry inspection laws, the oil pipeline safety laws, the product
safety laws, the update on flammable fabric laws, the air pollution control act, the
water pollution control act, the EPA, OSHA and the Environmental Council in the
White House transformed the political landscape. Nader by 1973 was named the
fourth most influential person in the country after Richard Nixon, Supreme Court
Justice Earl Warren and the labor leader George Meany.
Then something very interesting happened, Nader said. The pressure of these
meetings by the corporations like General Motors, the oil companies and the drug
companies with the editorial people, and probably with the publishers, coincided with
the emergence of the most destructive force to the citizen movementAbe
Rosenthal, the editor of The New York Times. Rosenthal was a right-winger from
Canada who hated communism, came here and hated progressivism. The Times was
not doing that well at the time. Rosenthal was commissioned to expand his suburban
sections, which required a lot of advertising. He was very receptive to the entreaties
of corporations, and he did not like me. I would give material to Jack Morris in the
Washington bureau and it would not get in the paper.
Rosenthal, who banned social critics such as Noam Chomsky from being quoted in
the paper and met frequently for lunch with conservative icon William F. Buckley,
demanded that no story built around Naders research could be published unless
there was a corporate response. Corporations, informed of Rosenthals dictate,
refused to comment on Naders research. This tactic meant the stories were never
published. The authority of the Times set the agenda for national news coverage.
Once Nader disappeared from the Times, other major papers and the networks did
not feel compelled to report on his investigations. It was harder and harder to be
There was, before we were silenced, a brief, golden age of journalism, Nader
lamented. We worked with the press to expose corporate abuse on behalf of the
public. We saved lives. This is what journalism should be about; it should be about
making the world a better and safer place for our families and our children, but then
it ended and we were shut out.
We were thrown on the defensive, and once we were on the defensive it was
difficult to recover, Nader said. The break came in 1979 when they deregulated
natural gas. Our last national stand was for the Consumer Protection Agency. We put
everything we had on that. We would pass it during the 1970s in the House on one
year, then the Senate during the next session, then the House later on. It ping-
ponged. Each time we would lose ground. We lost it because Carter, although he
campaigned on it, did not lift a finger compared to what he did to deregulate natural
gas. We lost it by 20 votes in the House, although we had a two-thirds majority in the
Senate waiting for it. That was the real beginning of the decline. Then Reagan was
elected. We tried to be the watchdog. We put out investigative reports. They would
not be covered.
The press in the 1980s would say why should we cover you? Nader went on.
Who is your base in Congress? I used to be known as someone who could trigger a
congressional hearing pretty fast in the House and Senate. They started looking
towards the neoliberals and neocons and the deregulation mania. We put out two
reports on the benefits of regulation and they too disappeared. They did not get
covered at all. This was about the same the time that [former U.S. Rep.] Tony Coelho
taught the Democrats, starting in 1979 when he was head of the House Campaign
Finance Committee, to start raising big-time money from corporate interests. And
they did. It had a magical influence. It is the best example I have of the impact of
money. The more money they raised the less interested they were in any of these
popular issues. They made more money when they screwed up the tax system.
There were a few little gains here and there; we got the Freedom of Information law
through in 1974. And even in the 1980s we would get some things done, GSA,
buying air bag-equipped cars, the drive for standardized air bags. We would defeat
some things here and there, block a tax loophole and defeat a deregulatory move.
We were successful in staunching some of the deregulatory efforts.
Nader, locked out of the legislative process, decided to send a message to the
Democrats. He went to New Hampshire and Massachusetts during the 1992 primaries
and ran as none of the above. In 1996 he allowed the Green Party to put his name
on the ballot before running hard in 2000 in an effort that spooked the Democratic
Party. The Democrats, fearful of his grass-roots campaign, blamed him for the
election of George W. Bush, an absurdity that found fertile ground among those who
had abandoned rational inquiry for the thought-terminating clichés of television.
Naders status as a pariah corresponded with an unchecked assault by corporations
on the working class. The long-term unemployment rate, which in reality is close to
20 percent, the millions of foreclosures, the crippling personal debts that plague
households, the personal bankruptcies, Wall Streets looting of the U.S. Treasury, the
evaporation of savings and retirement accounts and the crumbling of the countrys
vital infrastructure are taking place as billions in taxpayer subsidies, obscene profits,
bonuses and compensation are enjoyed by the corporate overlords. We will soon be
forced to buy the defective products of the government-subsidized drug and health
insurance companies, which will remain free to raise co-payments and premiums,
especially if policyholders get seriously ill. The oil, gas, coal and nuclear power
companies have made a mockery of Barack Obamas promises to promote clean,
renewal energy. And we are rapidly becoming a third-world country, cannibalized by
corporations, with two-thirds of the population facing financial difficulty and poverty.
The system is broken. And the consumer advocate who represented the best of our
democracy was broken with it. As Nader pointed out after he published Unsafe at
Any Speed in 1965, it took nine months to federally regulate the auto industry for
safety and fuel efficiency. Two years after the collapse of Bear Stearns there is still no
financial reform. The large hedge funds and banks are using billions in taxpayer
subsidies to once again engage in the speculative games that triggered the first
financial crisis and will almost certainly trigger a second. The corporate press, which
abets our vast historical amnesia, does nothing to remind us how we got here. It
speaks in the hollow and empty slogans handed to it by public relations firms, its
corporate paymasters and the sound-bite society.
If you organize 1 percent of the people in this country along progressive lines you
can turn the country around, as long as you give them infrastructure, Nader said.
They represent a large percentage of the population. Take all the conservatives who
work in Wal-Mart: How many would be against a living wage? Take all the
conservatives who have pre-existing conditions: How many would be for single-payer
not-for-profit health insurance? When you get down to the concrete, when you have
an active movement that is visible and media-savvy, when you have a community, a
lot of people will join. And lots more will support it. The problem is that most liberals
are estranged from the working class. They largely have the good jobs. They are not
The real tragedy is that citizens movements should not have to rely on the
commercial media, and public television and radio are disgracefulif anything they
are worse, Nader said. In 30-some years [Bill] Moyers has had me on [only] twice.
We cant rely on the public media. We do what we can with Amy [Goodman] on
Democracy Now! and Pacifica stations. When I go to local areas I get very good
press, TV and newspapers, but that doesnt have the impact, even locally. The
national press has enormous impact on the issues. It is not pleasant having to say
this. You dont want to telegraph that you have been blacked out, but on the other
hand you cant keep it quiet. The right wing has won through intimidation.
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