Fox News Freaks Out Over GE’s Taxes

The New York Times published a disturbing article yesterday about how giant, multinational corporations are robbing the U.S. treasury (and people) by exploit tax loopholes and the political clout to obtain them. The marquee revelation in the article is that General Electric, who made $14 billion dollars worldwide last year ($5 billion domestically), paid ZERO dollars in taxes.

“Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore. […]

Although the top corporate tax rate in the United States is 35 percent, one of the highest in the world, companies have been increasingly using a maze of shelters, tax credits and subsidies to pay far less. […]

Such strategies, as well as changes in tax laws that encouraged some businesses and professionals to file as individuals, have pushed down the corporate share of the nation’s tax receipts – from 30 percent of all federal revenue in the mid-1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009.”

This really doesn’t qualify as a press-stopping scoop. The trend toward corporate domination of our nation’s economy and politics has been evident for decades. Their success in wrangling beneficial treatment from Congress and the courts (i.e. Citizens United) through adept distribution of cash and favors has been decried in liberal circles repeatedly. But the effect of that criticism was itself suppressed by more corporate cash raining down on Tea Partiers, who have been exploited by AstroTurf inventions like Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, to demonstrate against their own interests. Thanks, Koch brothers.

Nevertheless, it is good to see a mainstream media source shining a light on this repugnant unfairness orchestrated by wealthy special interests and their benefactors. However, there is a surreal quality to the reaction in the press to this article. Right-wing politicians and pundits are suddenly praising the Times for outing GE. Ordinarily they regard the Times as irremediably biased and unreadable, but if they are attacking another of the right’s favorite foes they are considered sufficiently rehabilitated and trustworthy.

The most surreal response to this is the one emanating from Fox News. They have glommed unto this story like a shark on virgin surfer.

There were several reports on their daytime broadcasts. It was featured on their Fox Nation web site. And Bill O’Reilly devoted a segment to it complete with his trademark bluster and animosity toward his long-time nemesis GE and CEO Jeffrey Immelt, whom he has called “a despicable human being.”

O’Reilly: Last year General Electric made 14 billion in profit worldwide, including $5 billion in profit in the USA. Yet General Electric paid zero – nothing – in taxes to the feds. As you know GE boss Jeffrey Immelt – big supporter of President Obama, and vice versa. So the question is how could GE pay absolutely nothing to the government, and how could I get that deal?

Unsaid in all of this is that Fox News’ parent company, News Corp, did get that deal. As I reported earlier this week, there was another Times article a few years ago that revealed that…

“By taking advantage of a provision in the law that allows expanding companies like Mr. Murdoch’s to defer taxes to future years, the News Corporation paid no federal taxes in two of the last four years, and in the other two it paid only a fraction of what it otherwise would have owed. During that time, Securities and Exchange Commission records show, the News Corporation’s domestic pretax profits topped $9.4 billion.”

So the company that employs O’Reilly is banking almost twice the domestic profits of GE and paying nothing in taxes, yet they are the ones throwing tantrums and lobbing insults. This is the sort of behavior for which the word hypocrisy was coined.

I have no problem with Fox flogging GE over this issue, which is an important one that involves many more corporate scoundrels and deserves more attention. But it would have been nice if they could have at least acknowledged that they are engaging in the very same tax shenanigans as GE. However that would have required them to be an honest news provider, which is contrary to their mission.

[Update 3/28/11:] And finally there is some media attention on the fact that there are many U.S. corporations brazenly shortchanging the country. MSNBC via Daily Beast.

Bill O’Reilly’s Journalistic Standards Revealed – Again

Bill O’Reilly has indeed proven again and again that he has no journalistic standards. It is becoming somewhat tedious having to point this out when it occurs with such frequency, but this latest example just cries out for attention. I’m going to let O’Reilly tell the story himself…

Sources tell ‘The Factor’ that there is a federal investigation underway to find out if any American company sold components for roadside bombs to nefarious people. In May of 2008, and again in October ’08, coalition forces discovered unexploded roadside bombs in Iraq and handed them over to the FBI bureau in Baghdad. The FBI discovered that radio frequency modules inside the bombs were part of a shipment made by a U.S. company to Corezing International, a business in Singapore with direct ties to Iran.”

Oh my. That’s sounds frightening. Do go on…

“According to authorities, these modules are still being used today to kill Americans. The FBI will not comment, and ‘The Factor’ believes the investigation may be classified, because information is very hard to come by.”

So I assume that “The Factor” dove in and conducted a thorough investigation to get the “hard to come by” information, carefully documenting the exploits of a corrupt and dangerous program that is threatening American soldiers and America’s interests…

“‘The Factor’ has been told, but cannot confirm, that the General Electric corporation is under suspicion in the case.”

Ummm…..If you’ve been told something that you can’t confirm, why are you reporting it? You know, I’ve been told that Bill O’Reilly fixes breakfast in bed for Osama Bin Laden every Sunday morning before going to Mosque together. I can’t confirm it, but…..

“To be clear, ‘The Factor’ is not accusing anyone of anything. We are just reporting what we believe to be true.”

You aren’t accusing anyone of anything? Unless I’m mistaken, you just accused General Electric of arming America’s enemies and killing American troops. You made the accusation despite not being able to confirm it. And “reporting what we believe to be true” isn’t reporting at all, it’s gossip. So your assertion that you aren’t making an accusation is contradicted in the very same sentence by your admission to being a gossip monger (see Antilogical Reasoning).

Needless to say, O’Reilly got it all wrong. GE responded calling O’Reilly’s allegations “irresponsible and maliciously false” GE’s spokesman, Gary Sheffer, said that GE doesn’t do business with Corezing, and they don’t even make the radio frequency modules to which O’Reilly referred. Sheffer continued…

“We usually do not respond to the misleading and inaccurate claims made on this program because very few people take them seriously, but tonight’s report took this smear campaign to a new low.”

It is a pretty good general policy to regard O’Reilly as someone who is “misleading and inaccurate” and whom few take seriously. Although O’Reilly takes himself seriously enough to make up for all of those who know that he’s a joke. In response to remarks by Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, O’Reilly imagines that he is now at war with the White House. And, once again, he cites his ratings as evidence that Fox News will prevail in such a war.

First of all, there is no correlation between TV ratings and public opinion. This has been proven repeatedly. Secondly, when will O’Reilly and his comrades at Fox get it through their heads that being a top rated cable network is not an endorsement of their journalistic credibility. The National Enquirer has twice the circulation of the nation’s top daily newspaper (USA Today). By O’Reilly’s reasoning, the Enquirer is the the best newspaper in the country.

Finally, the notion that O’Reilly could seriously address the question of whether Fox News and the White House are at war is the best evidence that they are a disreputable enterprise whose obvious biases should disqualify them from being granted press credentials. The truth is that Fox News has more in common with the National Enquirer than a vast community of gullible readers/viewers. It is only a matter of time before Fox broadcasts headlines directly from the Enquirer. In fact, they may already be doing so. Stories about the President being a secret Muslim born in Kenya, and a health care plan that implements “death panels” for the purpose of euthanizing your grandma, could have come right out of the same issue of the Enquirer announcing the capture of Bigfoot by intergalactic (illegal) aliens.

GE And News Corp: The Saga Continues

As previously reported, executives at GE and News Corp have been attempting to broker a deal that would end the bickering between the networks and, mostly, Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly. I continue to maintain that it would be a violation of journalistic ethics for the execs to interfere with the judgment of their commentators. But the brass at GE and News Corp don’t seem to agree with me.

The first attempt at a truce was broken within 48 hours by Olbermann who, on returning from vacation, skewered O’Reilly royally, just like the good old days. O’Reilly took up the gauntlet and, as per his routine, ignored Olbermann and went straight after his boss at GE, Jeffrey Immelt. The tactic of bypassing Olbermann and aiming at Immelt is said to have been personally suggested by Fox News CEO Roger Ailes. With the war on again, the combatants began to reveal some of their innermost thoughts – particularly Ailes who, according to the Washington Post, summarized the situation thusly:

Ailes offered a blunt, if slightly jocular, diagnosis of the problem. He could control his nutcases, Ailes said, but Immelt couldn’t control his.

That says so much. First, Ailes is acknowledging that his people are nutcases (as if we didn’t already know). And second, Ailes is admitting that he has the power to manipulate the content and views of the nutcases who host Fox programs.

GE has issued a statement saying that they haven’t “told anyone at NBC News or MSNBC how to report the news.” But the New York Times claims to have sources who said that, not only was there a deal that covered Olbermann and O’Reilly, but also…

“Employees of daytime programs on MSNBC were specifically told by executives not to mention Fox hosts in segments critical of conservative media figures.”

What I want to know is, how can you produce a segment critical of conservative media figures without mentioning Fox hosts?

Olbermann (and anyone in his position) deserves respect for standing up to interference from the suits in the suites. It is the ethical thing to do in the news business. You simply do not let them intrude on your news judgment, especially if your job is to provide analysis and opinion. Unless, of course, you’re Bill O’Reilly, who is a coward, and a puppet for Ailes, who has previously admitted that he has the ability to direct what is said by Murdoch-owned pundits on TV and in print (over which he has no executive authority):

“Ailes warned that if Olbermann didn’t stop such attacks against Fox, he would unleash O’Reilly against NBC and would use the New York Post as well.”

This was basically extortion on the part of Ailes who literally served notice on GE saying that, “If you stop, we’ll stop.” The objective by both the GE and News Corp executives has nothing to do with the pursuit of news. Rather, it is a self-serving plot to tamp down any criticism of the parent companies. They are looking after their corporate interest, not the public interest.

This whole affair is a near perfect illustration of why monolithic corporations, with vested interests in far flung business and government affairs, should not be permitted to own news enterprises.

GE And FOX Agree To Censor Their News Divisions

In a report in the New York Times, the corporate parents of NBC and Fox News were brought together at a summit for CEO’s in an attempt to settle a long-simmering feud. Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, and Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp, sat down to try to work things out.

What they were striving to resolve was the eternal and bitter competition between MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly. This affair has been a rancorous, and often humorous, battle wherein Olbermann frequently awarded O’Reilly his “Worst Person in the World,” trophy, and O’Reilly countered by slandering NBC, GE, and Immelt personally (O’Reilly would never utter Olbermann’s name). According to the Times’ Brian Stelter…

“It was a media cage fight, televised every weeknight at 8 p.m. But the match was halted when the blood started to spray executives in the high-priced seats.”

There are two things that are immensely disturbing about this backroom handshake. First and foremost, the corporate parents of news enterprises ought not to be dictating the content of their news divisions, or the opinions of their commentators. That is especially true if the reason for the ivory tower interference is to dampen any blowback on the parent company’s business or executives resulting from controversial positions. This is about the best example of why it is unwise for corporations with vested interests in broader business and government affairs to own news publishers to begin with.

Secondly, the result of this inter-cable warfare is precisely what Fox News wanted. MSNBC is caving in to a deliberate tactic designed to halt criticism of Fox and its personnel. It is a one-sided victory for Fox that comes at the expense of MSNBC’s best interests and dignity. It was less than four months ago that Fox News CEO, Roger Ailes, laid down the threat from which they are now reaping the harvest. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post reported the tantrum Ailes threw in response to the escalating on-air debate:

“Ailes warned that if Olbermann didn’t stop such attacks against Fox, he would unleash O’Reilly against NBC and would use the New York Post as well.”

That’s precisely what happened, and it didn’t even take two weeks for Fox to follow through on its threat. Now we see this truce in effect at least partly because Immelt doesn’t like being called “a despicable human being” by O’Reilly. And the worst part is that Fox’s blatant bullying is being rewarded with a complete capitulation by MSNBC.

For these networks to enforce this agreement is nothing short of censorship. Olbermann responded with an email that said that he was not a party to any agreement, but he also seems to have halted his once routine attacks on O’Reilly and Fox News. As for Fox, their position now is that it is appropriate to direct their commentators to steer clear of certain topics. But that appears to apply only to topics that negatively impact the company brass. Just last week, after Glenn Beck called President Obama a racist, Fox released a statement that said that beck had merely…

“…expressed a personal opinion which represented his own views, not those of the Fox News Channel. And as with all commentators in the cable news arena, he is given the freedom to express his opinions.”

That freedom, of course, has limitations. From the Fox News point of view, it is alright for one of their hosts to comment disparagingly on the President of the United States, but it is not OK to comment on the president of the company. The company, after all, is sacrosanct and its interests are superior to those of the nation.

It is disheartening to see this sort of corporate thuggery imposed on what should be independent news divisions. One can only hope that the truce will fail and free expression will prevail.

Update: Olbermann returned from vacation and struck down any notion that the network brass would dictate the content of his program. To prove it, he returned Bill O’Reilly to the “World’s Worst” list and reprised his old “Bill-O the Clown” routine. Apparently, news of a network truce were exaggerated. That’s good news.

Bill O’Reilly Controls The Stock Market, Part II

Last June Jed Babbin of the uber-conservative Human Events Magazine wrote a disturbingly ignorant article in which he contended that Bill O’Reilly’s asinine babbling about General Electric may have caused their stock to decline.

Now Paul Bond of the Hollywood Reporter has sunk to the same depths of dumb. Bond has a history of poor analysis and bias that would embarrass the editor of a high school newspaper. In this column he asks: “Could O’Reilly have been a factor in GE’s stock becoming a dim bulb?” Most of the article is a tired rehashing of the war O’Reilly has declared on GE/NBC/Keith Olbermann. But near the end of the piece he gets around to answering his own question:

“Despite the relentless nature of the tirades, there aren’t many on Wall Street who suggest O’Reilly has been the cause of GE’s free-falling stock. In fact, most experts dismiss it as partisan street theater, and they point out that shares of News Corp., parent of O’Reilly’s own network, also have been crushed.”

That would seem to settle it. The article’s headline was just Bond’s sensationalistic ploy that was summarily dismissed by more realistic analysts and experts. Except for the fact that Bond’s bias still manages to emerge as he cites stock performance data that he seems to have made up. He says that this year GE has declined 53% and News Corp only 32%, a 21% difference. Actually GE has only declined 45%, but News Corp dropped 39%, a mere 6% difference. It’s bad enough that he can’t write, but apparently he can’t do math either.

It hardly makes sense to keep comparing GE to News Corp in the first place. News Corp is an almost pure media play, while GE is a conglomerate that has a small media component along with much larger entities engaged in defense contracting, appliances, medical technology, electronics, and finance (which, in case Bond didn’t notice, has been having a very bad year). A better comparison for News Corp would be Disney, Time Warner, and Viacom, all of which outperformed News Corp this year. But that doesn’t stop Bond from drawing a conclusion that teeters on fantasy. In the very last line of his article he says:

“As long as News Corp. keeps outperforming GE, criticism of O’Reilly and his stockpicking prowess will ring hollow.”

All I can say to this is that as long as Bond keeps writing absurd articles that misstate facts and twist reality, allegations of his sanity will ring hollow – much like his pal O’Reilly.

Addendum: O’Reilly took to the megaphone to trumpet news that S&P cut GE’s credit rating one step from “AAA” to “AA+”. While O’Reilly announced that as if it were his own victory, he didn’t bother to mention that his employer, News Corp, has a lower credit rating of “BBB”. And what are the odds that he’ll mention that Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway just received the same rating cut that GE did?