What a shame that the Washington Post generally does not run letters to the editor commenting on articles not appearing in the paper’s print edition. So I was unable to share directly with Post readers my views on General Electric CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt’s web-only op-ed slamming Bernie Sanders’ portrayal of his company as an archetype of corporate greed.
How fortunate, though, that I’m able to share with you the draft I sent to the Post before learning of this policy. It’s especially important since it spotlights a ploy used commonly – and successfully – by businesses and their hired guns to fool politicians and journalists on trade: exploiting the paucity of publicly available data and using only the most carefully cherry-picked facts and figures to plug their agendas. Moreover, the letter notes how easily Washington could level the information playing field.
Here’s what I sent to the Post:
“To the Editor:
“GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt wants to convince readers in his April 6 article that his company creates “real growth for a nation that needs it now more than ever.” But to accomplish his goal, he’ll have to do more than cherry pick data that portrays the firm in a flattering light.
“For example, Immelt boasts that GE lately has been exporting about $20 billion worth of American-made goods annually. But he fails to disclose how much GE has been importing each year – a figure needed to evaluate the company’s full trade, and thus growth, impact. Nor does he mention how GE’s trade balance has changed over time – information that’s much more valuable than a snapshot.
“Immelt states that GE maintains 200 US factories and has built 15 in the last five years. But he says nothing about GE’s foreign factories, and how their numbers have changed recently. Similarly, if Immelt wanted to present the whole picture, he’d reveal how much GE produces in the United States, how it produces abroad, and which of these manufacturing bases has been growing fastest lately.
“Of course, if Washington required full corporate disclosure of such information, Immelt and other multinational CEOs wouldn’t be able to use facts and figures so selectively and tendentiously to support current U.S. trade and other international economic policies. But American leaders keep permitting much of this material to be released at the companies’ discretion, ensuring that they, and the public, continue flying largely blind on crucial globalization-related issues.”
In sum, here’s an open invitation to America’s leaders and media to hold Immelt and the rest of the Offshoring Lobby to account. Let’s see if either one pursues the opportunity.