Media Consider American Businessmen “Bad Company”

Originally posted in the Townhall Conservative on November 22, 2007.

The American dream is alive and well, though you wouldn’t know it from watching the network news.

Liberal election rhetoric is counting on middle-class Americans believing someone is out to get them – and that they need the government’s protection. Recently we’ve seen this in media coverage of lenders, which ABC News called “the home wreckers.”

“Locking families out of the American dream by offering mortgages too good to be true,” was anchor Charles Gibson’s description.

Sure, there are unscrupulous lenders out there. But to describe an entire class of businesspeople in such a way is unforgivable.

If it were not for hard-working businessmen and women, we would not have grocery stores stocked with food, cars, our computers, houses or any of our comforts of life.

There’s an old African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a whole country full of businessmen to sustain America. They keep America – and others around the world – eating, driving, playing, and building homes.

But many Americans don’t view businessmen that way. A 2007 Harris Poll revealed that in a list of occupations rated for “very great prestige,” businessmen came in 15th place, after farmers and lawyers. Those specifically in the financial sector ranked even lower – stock brokers, accountants and bankers came in 19th, 20th and 21st, respectively.

The unfortunate truth is that the crimes and scandals of a few – like Enron and WorldCom – have tainted the nation’s view of all in the same profession.

The news media have been the constant bearers of bad news and negative portrayals of businessmen. Yes, Enrons do happen, but very few executives are involved in such scandals. Watching CNN, however, you might think crime was practically a job requirement. On CNN’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight” in 2006, 76 percent of the show’s portrayals of businessmen were negative. The program had criminal businessmen seven times as often as it featured businessmen-philanthropists.

That interesting nugget comes from a study by the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute, which looked at an entire year of evening newscasts. It found when businessmen were included in the news, they were often under attack.

This in-depth study, which took thousands of man-hours, identified journalists’ portrayals of businessmen and women and evaluated those that had a tilt toward the positive or the negative. Of those, it found 57 percent were negative. Businessmen were described as “fat cats” or “another corporate crook,” and stories were laced with worries about “stratospheric sums” of “CEO pay run amok.”

From company profits to consumer prices, money was the name of the game. CBS even did a story that scolded a multibillionaire for spending his money! Maybe those reporters didn’t learn in Economics 101 that spending money creates jobs for countless people. Instead, CBS got huffy about one businessman’s buying habits.

Everybody’s always making too much money to suit journalists … never mind that some of those network anchors are pulling in tens of millions themselves. According to TV Guide, CBS’s Katie Couric makes $15 million a year, while NBC’s Brian Williams makes $8 million.

No, the nightly newsers didn’t focus on the positive. Despite more than $51 billion pledged from the most generous Americans in 2006, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, journalists portrayed businessmen as criminals one-and-a-half times more often than they were portrayed as philanthropists.

I know businessmen who give generously, and they wouldn’t want to be featured on the evening news. They prefer to give without widespread fame. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t good stories about businessmen out there – stories that enterprising reporters could dig up – about those who build companies and communities.

Other nations would love to have a chance at this system of free enterprise that our media take for granted and even attack. Bill George, a Harvard Business School professor and businessman himself, wrote about that system on August 5.

“Every government leader and business executive I have met in developing countries –from the mayor of Beijing to the ruler of the United Arab Emirates – is eager for one thing: U.S.-style capitalism to build their economies, create jobs and wealth for their people, and bring their countries fully into the global trading network,” George wrote. “From Kazakhstan to Vietnam, people are hungry for capitalism.”

People from around the world come here to work. That coveted capitalism that creates jobs and wealth is maintained by hard-working businessmen and women – most of whom stay out of the spotlight. They’re not scandal-ridden. They’re inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs. They provide jobs to more than 100 million Americans. And they give back to their communities.

Unfortunately, they’re just not making headlines.