The dangers of closed viewpoints and political partisanship are becoming costly realities for American corporations. CNN and AT&T have learned expensive lessons that the rest of corporate America would be wise to heed.
CNN is floundering as a business. Its ratings have fallen through the floor. Given that it remains the staple of airports across the country, it seems possible that, within a rounding error, there is often nobody voluntarily watching CNN.
There is also little doubt that CNN is a deeply ideological left-wing organization. Recently “Chief Media Correspondent” Brian Stelter and his CNN colleagues pulled long faces about Justice Neil Gorsuch appearing on Fox News to promote a book, even though Stelter had cheered Justice Stephen Breyer’s appearance on Stephen Colbert’s show, and CNN had hosted Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to promote the hagiographic movie “RBG.”
Just days ago, CNN’s “disinformation” reporter worried that a right-of-center satire site was really generating disguised fake news, even though that same reporter merrily retweets satirical fare from left-of-center humorous-news site The Onion. Similar evidence of bias abounds.
The effects of that partisanship are appearing directly in CNN’s bottom line, as it has now had to settle with Nick Sandmann, the high-school student of “Covington Kid” fame who was falsely accused by CNN and other ostensibly objective new sources of racial insensitivity and perhaps even darker misdeeds.
Despite these indicia of overt bias, CNN continues to insist it is an objective news organization, not leaning in favor of any party or ideology. This willful blindness is unjustifiable, but is better understood when one realizes that it is genetic, inherited from CNN’s corporate parents.
CNN is owned by AT&T. AT&T plays the same duplicitous “partisan blindness” games as its once-respectable media outlet.
This fall, we at the Free Enterprise Project (FEP) of the National Center for Public Policy Research asked AT&T to allow its shareholders to vote about whether they would like AT&T to provide them reasonable information about the ideological perspectives (which we further defined as the political/policy positions) of its board of director candidates, on which shareholders vote each year. In response, AT&T went to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to try to block our proposal from going to shareholders.
AT&T told the SEC that it just couldn’t figure out what we were talking about, or how to report on it. Noting that political positions can be divvied up more finely than just liberal versus conservative, it complained that providing meaningful information, while allowing for nuance, would tax their information-conveying powers past the breaking point. This from a telecommunications company that owns a purported news station.
AT&T’s claim is absurd on its face, and the reason for it is clear. From the biographical information that AT&T does provide about its current board members (who are also the corporation’s slate of board candidates for next year), we have concluded that every member of the board who reveals his or her political activities has served only in Democratic administrations and for Democrats.
This is true despite the fact that AT&T proudly—if, it seems, only rhetorically—directs its employees to get out of their echo chambers to represent the values of all customers. Meanwhile, the AT&T board remains the archetype of a partisan echo chamber, even while leftwing politicians and activists threaten to break up AT&T again while accusing it of having dark designs to destroy open access to the Internet without highly disruptive, Democrat-supported regulation.
AT&T is hardly alone in this arguably self-destructive high-level partisanship. As Baron Political Affairs, LLC revealed in 2019, every single director of a Fortune 1-10 company who has been elected or has worked for an administration has been (or worked for) a Democrat. The ratio shifts to two Democrats for every Republican in the Fortune 100 generally, and to 5:1 for financial or tech firms within that group.
FEP tries to get America’s biggest companies to recognize the potential risks of their high-level partisanship. CNN provides just one illustration of the ways echo chambers at the highest levels can affect businesses’ bottom lines and the tenor of civic life generally. Another example arises from the aggressive resistance we at FEP encounter when asking these corporations to protect their employees from workplace discrimination on the basis of their civic viewpoints or participation.
Everyone agrees that partisan rancor has gotten far out of hand. But rancor will not fade while those who ostensibly bemoan partisanship actually practice it with abandon while pretending they can’t even see it.