Malcolm Gladwell Unmasked: A Look Into the Life & Work of America’s Most Successful Propagandist

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Yves here. Yasha Levine and Mark Ames have launched the S.H.A.M.E. Project, which stands for “Shame the Hacks who Abuse Media Ethics.” Its approach is to provide information about the background and funding sources of well-recognized journalists and pundits so that the public will be in a better position to recognize bias and hidden agendas in their reporting and analysis. You can find a S.H.A.M.E dossier on Gladwell here.

By Yasha Levine, President of S.H.A.M.E., an investigative journalist and a founding editor of The eXiled. His work has been published by Wired, The Nation, Slate, The New York Observer and many others. He has made several guest appearances on MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan Show.

“I’m necessarily parasitic in a way. I have done well as a parasite. But I’m still a parasite.”

Malcolm Gladwell

In the vast ecosystem of corporate shills, which one is the most effective? Propaganda works best when it is not perceived as propaganda: nuance, obfuscation, distraction, suggestion, the subtle introduction of doubt—these are more effective in the long run than shotgun blasts of lies. The master of this approach is Malcolm Gladwell.

Malcolm Gladwell is the New Yorker’s leading essayist and bestselling author. Time magazine named Gladwell one of the world’s 100 most influential people. His books sell copies in the millions, and he is in hot demand as one of the nation’s top public intellectual and pop gurus. Gladwell plays his role as a disinterested public intellectual like few others, right down to the frizzy hairdo and smock-y getups. His political aloofness, high-brow contrarianism and constant challenges to “popular wisdom” are all part of his shtick.

But beneath Malcolm Gladwell’s cleverly-crafted ambiguity, beneath the branded facade, one finds, with surprising ease, a common huckster on the take. I say “surprising ease” because it’s all out there on the public record.

As this article will demonstrate, Gladwell has shilled for Big Tobacco, Pharma and defended Enron-style financial fraud, all while earning hundreds of thousands of dollars as a corporate speaker, sometimes from the same companies and industries that he covers as a journalist.

Malcolm Gladwell is a one-man branding and distribution pipeline for valuable corporate messages, constructed on the public’s gullibility in trusting his probity and intellectual honesty in the pages of America’s most important weekly magazine, The New Yorker, and other highly prominent media outlets.

Early Ultra-Conservative Training

Perhaps Americans would be less shocked by Malcolm Gladwell’s journalistic corruption if they were aware of his background. Gladwell was trained up in the same corporate-funded network of training and “education” institutes and outfits responsible for churning out the likes of Michelle Malkin, convicted criminal James O’Keefe, Dinesh D’Souza and countless other GOP corporate activists. The difference: Unlike Gladwell, they rarely hid their ideological willingness to take cash in exchange for promoting the corporate right’s agenda.

While a student at the University of Toronto, Gladwell’s admiration for Ronald Reagan led him into conservative activist circles. In 1982, while still an undergrad, he completed a 12-week training course at the National Journalism Center, a corporate-funded program created to counter the media’s alleged “anti-business bias” by molding college kids into corporate-friendly journalist-operatives and helping them infiltrate top-tier news media organizations. To quote Philip Morris, a major supporter of the National Journalism Center, its mission was to “train budding journalists in free market political and economic principles.” Over the years the National Journalism Center has produced hundreds of pro-business news media moles, including top-tier conservative talent like Ann Coulter and former Wall Street Journal columnist and editorial board member John Fund.

After graduating from University of Toronto in 1984, Gladwell spent a few years bouncing around the far-right fringe of the corporate media spectrum. He wrote for the American Spectator—notorious in the 1990s as the primary media organ promoting anti-Clinton conspiracy theories—as well as the Moonie-owned Insight on the News. From 1985-6, Gladwell served as assistant editor at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, which was created to bridge the gap between neoconservatives and Christian fundamentalists and help the two hostile factions to come together to counter a common enemy: activists fighting for economic justice. Rick Santorum was a fellow at EPPC until June 2011, when he left to concentrate on his attempt to secure the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.

Ernest Lefever, who founded EPPC in 1976, explained his group’s purpose:

U.S. domestic and multinational firms find themselves increasingly under siege at home and abroad . . . They are accused of producing shoddy and unsafe products, fouling the environment, robbing future generations, wielding inordinate power, repressing peoples in the Third World, and generally of being insensitive to human needs… We as a small and ethically oriented center are in a position to respond more directly to ideological critics who insist that the corporation is fundamentally unjust.

But Lefever wasn’t just pro-corporation, he was also pro-white supremacy. In 1981, Ronald Reagan picked Lefever for the position of Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, but the nomination process blew up in his face after Lefever’s own brothers outed the man as a frothing white supremacist who believed blacks to be genetically inferior to whites. Gladwell, who is part-Jamaican, apparently didn’t mind working for a white supremacist who argued that people like Gladwell were inferior. Incredibly enough, Gladwell has continued to participate in events with EPPC outfit as late as 2005, and is currently listed on its promotional materials.

Big Tobacco

With several years of corporate media training and right-wing work experience advocacy under his belt, Malcolm Gladwell moved from the ideological fringes to the heart of the American mainstream journalism: In 1987, the Washington Post hired Gladwell as a science and business correspondent—the ideal beat for a neophyte propagandist looking to promote the business agenda.

From the get-go, Gladwell’s reporting stands out for its unabashedly pro-business, anti-regulation bias. Nowhere was this bias more evident than in Gladwell’s barely disguised promotion of the tobacco industry’s agenda. Gladwell’s reporting on tobacco issues in the early ’90s came just as Big Tobacco was was gearing up for its war against looming class-action lawsuits, as well as the mounting pressure for stricter regulation of the industry. As the Post’s business and science reporter, Gladwell carried the tobacco lobby’s water—and messages—while raising doubts about the industry’s critics.

One of the more obvious and disgusting examples: In 1990, Gladwell published a rank scare-article arguing that any moves to cut Americans’ smoking habits could “put a serious strain on the nation’s Social Security and Medicare programs”–meaning that high levels of smoking was helping keep America’s social safety from going bankrupt, since so many were dying before they could collect.

The article, headlined “Not Smoking Could Be Hazardous to Pension System,” was not reporting new news, but simply recycling stale tobacco propaganda: a 1987 industry study called “The Social Security Costs of Smoking,” produced by the notorious National Bureau of Economic Research, an organization with ties to the tobacco industry and bankrolled by the biggest names in right-wing corporate propaganda funding—some of the same foundations that funneled cash to one of Gladwell’s first employers, the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Gladwell concluded the article by quoting more scare-mongering by a known tobacco lobbyist Gio Gori: “Prevention of disease is obviously something we should strive for. But it’s not going to be cheap. We will have to pay for those who survive,” he told Gladwell. What Gori didn’t say is that he had received hundreds of thousands of tobacco industry dollars to advocate for Big Tobacco, his rate set by contract at $200 per hour. Years later, after the federal lawsuit settlement with the big tobacco companies, the same study Gladwell quoted for his article was also found in the files of Victor Han, Director of Communications for Philip Morris Worldwide Regulatory Affairs.

Indeed, documents and communications later released to the public as part of the tobacco settlement showed that the tobacco industry considered Malcolm Gladwell an important friend. For example, an internal Phillip-Morris document from the mid- to late ’90s listed Gladwell as a “third party” media asset—someone who could be counted on to rally public support for tobacco industry causes.

For those not familiar with public relations industry lingo, “third party” refers to a PR technique in which a corporation’s marketing message is delivered to the public through seemingly independent journalists, academics, non-profits, think tanks and other respected “third parties” in order to bolster the credibility of “the message” and to conceal the ties between the message and the messenger. In other words, Gladwell was seen as a secret tobacco-industry propagandist.

In journalistic terms, “third-party advocate” simply means “fraud.” But here’s a more nuanced description of the third party technique and its importance to corporate messaging from a Burson-Marsteller PR expert, courtesy of SourceWatch:

For the media and the public, the corporation will be one of the least credible sources of information on its own product, environmental and safety risks. Both these audiences will turn to other experts … to get an objective viewpoint.

Developing third party support and validation for the basic risk messages of the corporation is essential. This support should ideally come from medical authorities, political leaders, union officials, relevant academics, fire and police officials, environmentalists, regulators.

This Philip-Morris document, titled “THIRD-PARTY MESSAGE DEVELOPMENT CONTACT LIST,” lists Gladwell alongside dozens of notorious corporate promoters and right-wing journalists, ranging from Fox’s mustachioed libertarian John Stossel, Bush press secretary and Fox News anchor Tony Snow, Grover Norquist, Milton Friedman and the head of the Heritage Foundation, Ed Feulner. This is a remarkable list, and it includes a disproportionate number of libertarians, like Reason magazine editor Jacob Sullum—whose role as a paid promoter of big tobacco was also exposed in the tobacco documents. (You can read more about them, including how RJ Reynolds paid Jacob Sullum $5,000 to “reprint” his article, here and here.)

Malcolm Gladwell: Trusted Tobacco Industry Media Asset

Gladwell’s shilling for the tobacco industry is shocking, but it makes more sense given his background. The National Journalism Center, which helped launch Gladwell’s journalistic career, received generous support from the tobacco industry, on the explicit understanding that the Journalism Center would train up pro-tobacco cub journalists who would later become reliable mouthpieces for tobacco-lobby interests.

This relationship is laid out explicitly in a number of internal tobacco-industry documents, including a 1994 Philip Morris strategy report. It described the company’s relationship with the National Journalism Center, and gloated about the success of their strategy:

This group was developed to train budding journalists . . . As a direct result of our support we have been able to work with alumni of this program . . . about 15 years worth of journalists at print and visual media throughout the country . . . to get across our side of the story . . .which has resulted in numerous pieces consistent with our point of view.

The document also revealed that Philip Morris regularly held briefings for the National Journalism Center’s “Alumni Council”—yep, that’s people like Malcolm Gladwell—in order to keep their assets up to date with the company’s newest policy objectives, which in 1994 included defeating President Clinton’s healthcare reform initiative:

Because Gladwell largely escaped suspicion, he turned out to be one of the tobacco industry’s most successful investments. Even after leaving the Washington Post, Gladwell continued pumping out pro-tobacco propaganda, and kneecapping or muddying the industry’s critics.

In one of the more shameless examples—a 1996 book review published in the New Republic—Gladwell attacked journalist Philip J. Hilts for comparing tobacco industry executives to Nazis. But Gladwell didn’t stop with attacking Hilts; instead, he used the example of Hilts’ analogy to smear all tobacco critics, arguing, “At the moment of its greatest victory, the anti-tobacco movement has begun to acquire a noxious odor of its own.” Shortly afterwards, a Philip Morris PR executive used Gladwell’s article in a letter to the New York Times in an attempt to get Hilts barred from the paper, so righteously indignant was he over the crime of Hilts’ Nazi analogy. Why was he so indignant? Maybe because the Nazi comparison was right on the mark: In 2011, an estimated 6 million people around the globe died from tobacco—the same as the number of Jews murdered by Nazis in the Holocaust. But while it took the Nazis years to murder 6 million men, women and children, tobacco companies churn through that same number of victims every 12 months.

Even as tobacco was preparing to settle with the Clinton Administration, Gladwell kept up the barrage of friendly propaganda. His first book, The Tipping Point, published in 2000, has a section on tobacco that, again, reads like something from industry PR. In one passage, Gladwell analyzed various studies into teen smoking and came to the conclusion that kids start smoking at a young age not in any way because of the millions of advertising dollars big tobacco spends targeting kids—but rather because kids just want to be cool and so it was practically “inevitable that they would also be drawn to the ultimate expression of adolescent rebellion, risk-taking, impulsivity, indifference to others, and precocity: the cigarette.”

“Who me? I’m not cool. Smoking Camel Lights, now that’s cool!”

This was whitewashing of the rankest, most cynical sort: In the 1990s, the average starting age of smokers was calculated to be 12. To the tobacco industry, getting kids hooked that young was a central business strategy. Gladwell could obfuscate all he wanted, but his old friends in the business bragged as far back as this 1975 internal document from Philip Morris, boasting, “Marlboro’s phenomenal growth rate in the past has been attributable in large part to our high market penetration among young smokers . . .15 to 19 years old.” Six years later it was the same old story. A Philip Morris study from 1981 called “Young Smokers — Prevalence, Trends, Implications, and Related Demographic Trends” laid it out clearly: “Today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer, and the overwhelming majority of smokers first begin to smoke while still in their teens . . . The smoking patterns of teenagers are particularly important to Philip Morris.”

Guess Gladwell was never a big Flinstones fan…

By the time Gladwell’s The Tipping Point was published, this was the sort of message tobacco didn’t want the public to know about, or believe. Not surprisingly, Gladwell writes in his book:

Over the past decade, the anti-smoking movement has railed against the tobacco companies for making smoking cool and has spent untold millions of dollars of public money trying to convince teenagers that smoking isn’t cool. But that’s not the point. Smoking was never cool. Smokers are cool. [Notice the false antithesis to make Gladwell sound smart and outside-the-box, when he’s actually not saying anything new at all—SHAME.] Smoking epidemics begin in precisely the same way that the suicide epidemic in Micronesia began or word-of- mouth epidemics begin or the AIDS epidemic began . . . In this epidemic, as in all others, a very small group — a select few — are responsible for driving the epidemic forward.

In other words, it’s all the fault of cool people, and of natural forces and human behavior. Gladwell ignored the reams of documented evidence on the manipulative power of advertising and marketing; instead, like a classic corporate shill, he blames smokers for smoking. Blame the victims for being victimized—it is as offensive and fallacious as if Gladwell were to argue that crack cocaine dealers and drug cartel kingpins were totally blameless in the drug epidemics, and that it’s all the fault of the users, period.

Among The Tipping Point’s biggest fans were Big Tobacco’s moguls. Gladwell’s book became required reading for industry people. An email sent by Philip Morris exec Michael Fitzgibbon to the company’s resident behavioral scientist, Carolyn J. Levy, said: “I recommend you read (or have one of your minions submit a book report on) The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell . . . Beyond the piece on teen smoking, there is some interesting, possibly useful, information.”

Even as Gladwell slowly started to rebrand himself as something of a “liberal” during the Bush years, his support for the tobacco industry remained constant. In 2006, Malcolm Gladwell told the New York Times that although he believes the tobacco industry should be regulated, he also “thinks that filing product liability lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers is absurd.”

Put in simpler terms: Gladwell thinks people should not sue suing tobacco companies for knowingly and purposefully misleading customers about the dangers of cigarette smoke. By this time, no one could maintain credibility while arguing against regulation of tobacco; however, the industry’s biggest problems lay in the ongoing lawsuits that Gladwell forcefully opposed. Across the US juries were handing out massive awards against tobacco companies—like the $37.5 million a Miami jury awarded in 2002 to John Lukacs, a 76-year-old former three-packs-a-day smoker who lost his tongue and lower palate, in his lawsuit against Philip Morris for false advertising and consumer fraud.

While Gladwell went around blasting such lawsuits as “absurd,” the industry, led by Philip Morris, was funding a major effort for “Tort Reform” to drastically limit and curtail Big Tobacco’s liability exposure to ongoing and future lawsuits.

The tobacco industry that Gladwell defends has plenty of reason to fear lawsuits: arguably, the tobacco industry is responsible for the largest, focused mass murder in human history. According to the CDC, “More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined.” Tobacco kills about 500,000 people every year in the US, and is expected to annually kill 8 million people worldwide by year 2030.

Multiply these grizzly numbers by decades, and you will have death tolls that make the Holocaust, Stalin’s crimes and America’s aggregate war dead pale by comparison—all that murder and death for the profit of tobacco industry shareholders and executives. You can see why they would consider Malcolm Gladwell such a valuable asset.

Big Pharma

You can’t get much worse and more amoral than shilling for tobacco while posing as a mainstream journalist. Once you’ve gone there, there’s nothing holding you back from propagandizing for highly-profitable merchants of death from any industry—and by “you,” we mean “Malcolm Gladwell.” Along with big tobacco, he took up the cause of the pharmaceutical industry, defending the industry’s right to reap mega-profits on the backs of schoolchildren who were being turned en masse into highly profitable amphetamine addicts.

In 1999, the New Yorker published a Gladwell article in which he all but promoted the powerful stimulant drug Ritalin as a safe, non-addictive way to treat childhood A.D.H.D. “Obviously, taking Ritalin doesn’t have the same consequences as snorting cocaine . . . It’s not addictive,” he wrote.

The article was titled “Running From Ritalin” and came just in the nick of time for Big Pharma—amidst a fierce national debate about the alarming rise in prescriptions for powerful stimulants like Ritalin to treat childhood hyperactivity.

“Mommy, can you up my Ritalin dose today? Mr. Gladwell says it’s good for me . . .”

The 1990s decade saw a sevenfold increase in the production of ADHD stimulants, causing a growing number of medical professionals to complain that the drug was being over-prescribed, and wrongfully prescribed to treat what often would have been considered normal childhood behavior.

In 1998, the year before Gladwell’s article came out, Time magazine put Ritalin on its cover and ran a negative story that questioned the skyrocketing use of Ritalin and other powerful psychotropic drugs among American children. Even Hillary Clinton got into the fray, announcing a campaign to combat the growing problem of overmedicating children.

Among other things, drug companies were accused of using aggressive marketing techniques and industry-funded front groups to promote childhood A.D.H.D., frighten and confuse parents, and seduce doctors into treating hyperactive children with prescription speed. The adverse effects of this highly-profitable enterprise were evident: a study showed that up to one in ten children who were on Ritalin suffered psychotic episodes, including intense hallucinations. The FDA itself came out with a report that compiled story after story of children, some less than 10 years old, suffering from a range of “hallucinations, both visual and tactile…involving insects, snakes and worms.”

And what was Gladwell’s reaction? He dismissed it all as bunk, and took the side of the pharmaceutical industry. In his article, which relied heavily on quotes and information provided by A.D.H.D. researchers who later were found to have financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry*, Gladwell, ever the master of suggestion and nuance, posed the problem this way: “even with that dramatic increase, the number of American children taking Ritalin is estimated to be one or two per cent. Given that most estimates put the incidence of A.D.H.D. at between three and five per cent, are too many children taking the drug–or too few?”

In other words, if there’s any problem here, it’s that the kids aren’t being medicated enough!

In 2004, Gladwell came to Pharma’s rescue again, just when the industry was taking a lot of heat for the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs. True to form, Gladwell published a piece in the New Yorker challenging the “conventional wisdom” about drug prices, arguing that the poor persecuted pharmaceutical industry was being scapegoated, blamed for problems that were beyond their control. Citing a pharma-funded study, Gladwell, ever the contrarian, located what he argued was the real reason drug costs were soaring: the victims were to blame, because Americans loved their pills so much they couldn’t buy enough of them, leaving poor drug industry manufacturers struggling to keep up with demand:

… drug expenditures are rising rapidly in the United States not so much because we’re being charged more for prescription drugs but because more people are taking more medications in more expensive combinations. It’s not price that matters; it’s volume.

The drug companies were merely responding to consumer demand—it was the consumer who was in charge, he argued, pushing one of the oldest PR tricks in the corporate playbook. Once again, it’s the victim’s fault: In Gladwell’s view, medical patients who can’t afford prescription medications have only themselves to blame and should accept personal responsibility rather than shifting the blame onto the innocent party—i.e., the pharmaceutical industry. This is the same “blame the victim” argument that Gladwell used to defend tobacco companies against well-founded accusations that they had targeted juveniles in marketing campaigns to turn them into addicts.

Gladwell’s prescription drug argument hinged on a study of drug prices in different countries by two University of Pennsylvania economists that had been published in Health Affairs. Gladwell didn’t mention that the study was funded by pharma giant Merck, nor did he inform his readers that the study’s leading author, economist Patricia M. Danzon, worked as a paid consultant for the pharmaceutical industry. Danzon’s CV contains a list of “selected consulting experience” that includes clients such as Merck, Pfizer and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, the industry lobby juggernaut commonly known as PhRMA.

Views are those of the authors, funding for those views provided by Merck

Gladwell’s article on the explosion of drug prices and costs also didn’t say much of anything about pharmaceutical companies’ profits—by that time, Pharma’s profit margins were among the highest of any industry. Nor did Gladwell include the numerous documented cases in which drug companies have been busted engaging in criminal conspiracies to inflate and manipulate prices, leading to billions in fines and lawsuits. Neither did he address the various ways the industry pressures, manipulates and cajoles doctors to overmedicate patients, including bribes and kickbacks to doctors that are now routine practice in the medical industry.

There were plenty of examples for Gladwell to choose from, like the 2001 case against TAP Pharmaceutical Products involving both bribery and price manipulation, for which the company settled for nearly $1 billion. Or a lawsuit filed by 29 states against Bristol-Myers Squibb Co in 2002 that accused the giant pharmaceutical company of conspiring to delay the release of a generic cancer drug commonly used to treat ovarian and breast cancer by almost three years in order to keep the price of its own cancer drug, Taxol, inflated by as much as 30 percent.

Not surprisingly, Gladwell’s defense of Big Pharma’s pricing schemes won Gladwell high praise from various public relation flaks, including John Moore, a veteran corporate food marketer:

I can’t help myself when it comes to pimpin’ Malcolm Gladwell. You see, I value people who can make the complicated uncomplicated and can forgo conventional thought for intellectual thought. And Gladwell does both.

Case in point … his take on the high prices of prescription drugs.

In a recent New Yorker article, High Prices — How to Think about Prescription Drugs, Gladwell expertly dispels the myth that it’s the fault of the pharmaceutical drug companies for rising drug costs.

And in case anyone had any doubts over whether or not he was on the take, Malcolm Gladwell was finally forced to confess that he did indeed take money on the sly from the pharmaceutical industry, including under-the-table cash from companies he specifically mentioned and defended in his 2004 New Yorker article that blamed high drug prices on American consumers.

Speaking Fees

At the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell developed another branch of his branded Malcolm Gladwell, Inc. business: as a highly-paid corporate speaker. Indeed, Gladwell is ranked as one of the highest-paid speakers in America today, commanding anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000 for a single talk to corporations and industry groups eager to pay for his soothing wisdom. In 2007, Fast Company estimated Gladwell does “roughly 25 speaking gigs a year, his current going rate some $40,000 per appearance.”

That would translate into roughly $1 million that year in speaking fees alone—four times what he made at the New Yorker in 2005. It’s a huge amount of money, as far as speaker’s salaries go. For comparison: Mitt Romney only made $500,000 in speaking fees in 2010.

Despite posing as a credible journalist at one of America’s premiere media outlets, Gladwell has yet to disclose which companies and lobby groups pay him to speak, or how much they pay him. Although he makes more money as a corporate speaker than he does as a journalist for the New Yorker, Gladwell claims that the speaking fees do not affect his reporting—in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

His New Yorker article about high drug prices was so gratuitously biased and so obviously skewed in favor of the pharmaceutical industry that it touched off a minor controversy about his speaking fees and, for the first time, raised serious questions about Gladwell’s potential financial conflict of interest and his credibility as a reporter. Even some of his own colleagues wondered whether Gladwell went too far this time.

Slate’s Jack Shafer raised the question, but quickly backed off after New Yorker editor in chief David Remnick went to the mat for Gladwell, assuring Shafer that there was nothing to worry about because Gladwell “is extremely eclectic in his interests and independent in his thinking. He is just about the least political or ideological writer on the staff—and wonderfully unpredictable.”

I contacted The New Yorker asking if the magazine had a policy on undisclosed conflicts-of-interest for their writers. The publication would not comment on the record for this story.

Strangely enough, Brandweek, the trade journal of the marketing industry, was much harsher in its criticism, noting that Gladwell’s pro-pharma article distinguished the New Yorker as one of the few news outlets not critical of industry’s role in skyrocketing drug prices—and they wondered, correctly, if Gladwell’s paid speaking gigs had anything to do with it:

One of the more sympathetic articles, published last October by The New Yorker, was penned by Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point. … The piece did not mention, however, that Gladwell has been paid by pharmaceutical companies on numerous occasions in recent years to give speeches on his marketing theories.

The criticism was not very loud or sustained. But it was enough to make Gladwell uncomfortable, forcing him to publish an equivocating, message-confusing, rambling “disclosure statement” on his personal website that clocked in at over 6,000 words.

It was published on December 2004, and it began:

As a writer I wear two hats. I am a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine, where I have been under contract more or less continuously since 1996. I also do public speaking, based on my second career as the author of two books–The Tipping Point and Blink. Over the past four or five years, I have given talks to corporations, trade associations, conventions of one sort or another, colleges, think tanks, charitable groups, public lecture series and, on one occasion (arranged by my mother) my old high school. For some of those engagements, I have been paid. For those given to academic and charitable organizations, I generally have not…

Seems straightforward enough, right? Wrong: it took Gladwell 5,000 words before he finally addressed the reason he posted this Bible-length disclosure in the first place:

Have I given paid speeches to companies or industries mentioned or affected by that article? Yes I have. As I stated earlier, I have given my Tipping Point talk to groups of doctors, hospitals, insurers, as well as Pharmacy Benefit Managers and groups funded by the National Institutes of Health. More specifically, I have on several occasions over the past four years given paid speeches on the Tipping Point to pharmaceutical companies. So did that create a bias in favor of the pharmaceutical industry?

Leave it to the master propagandist to pose an admission of guilt as a question.

Most news organization have specific rules and guidelines about speaking fees, and some—including the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and the Washington Post—ban their journalists from taking fees for speeches. But the issue is far from settled, and regularly comes up in debates about journalistic ethics. Jonathan Salant, former president of the Society of Professional Journalists Washington chapter, considers corporate speaking fees to be outright bribes. He’s not the only one.

In a March 2012 article in the Columbia Journalism Review, Paul Starobin wondered if speaking fees are a “dark and an indelible stain on journalism” and noted that most journalists would not talk openly about the details of their corporate speaker side-gigs on the record and that some tried to prevent their names from being mentioned at all.

The reason for their secrecy should be obvious to anyone: If you are paid tens of thousands of dollars by a company or lobby group for merely speaking at one of their conferences, wouldn’t you be more favorably inclined to see things their way, and less eager to air their critics, than if you hadn’t been paid by them, and didn’t expect future payments as well?

The fact is, corporations and industries that Gladwell defends and promotes in print have paid him tens of thousands of dollars—more than what most Americans make in a year—for just a few hours of his time. And yet Gladwell feigns ignorance of the financial side of his speaking business—he even pretends he doesn’t know who or what pays him how much. As he told New York Magazine in 2008, “I never deal with any of the money-negotiation part . . . It just goes into my account, so it’s like I’m not even aware.”

A million dollars a year goes into his account, and he’s not even sure what happens to it . . .


In Defense of Financial Deregulation

About six months before world financial markets froze up in the summer of 2007, Malcolm Gladwell wrote another one of his “contrarian” articles for the New Yorker, this time defending the actions of Enron executives. Gladwell was most concerned for Enron President Jeffery Skilling, who was convicted of 19 felony counts, including securities fraud, conspiracy and insider trading, and sentenced to 24 years in prison—after having dished out $40 million on his defense.

According to Gladwell, the prosecution and jury were wrong; Skilling didn’t necessarily break any laws when he cooked books and conspired to defraud investors, prettying up Enron’s financial statements while looting the company, leaving investors and employees fleeced and in some cases ruined. Gladwell implied, as is his wont, that the real culprits were the victims—investors who didn’t do their due diligence and properly sniff out Enron’s financial fraud, which Skilling and others did everything in their power to conceal. Gladwell argued essentially that corporations should be expected to lie, cheat and steal—the pursuit of profit was always blameless—it’s up to investors to ferret out fraud, and if they don’t, relying on the law and juries to punish the crimes was tantamount to rewarding investor failures. It was the same old Gladwell technique: blame victims for allowing themselves to be ripped off and robbed.

Gee, New Yorker, why don’t we ask some experts…

Announcing the publication of the article on his personal blog, Gladwell represented the Enron crimes in such a way as to, again, confuse and humble his readers:

“Can anyone explain–in plain language–what it is Jeff Skilling and Co. did wrong? . . . The question is strictly a legal one: according to the way the accounting rules were written at the time, what specific transgressions were Skilling guilty of that merited twenty-four years in prison?”

Gladwell probably wasn’t counting on someone like U.C. Berekley Economics Professor Brad DeLong to come in and call him on his sly defense. DeLong went into Gladwell’s comment section and ripped his article to shreds, forcing Gladwell to backtrack on his claim that Enron execs were not in fact guilty of committing a crime. In the end, Gladwell was reduced to calling critical commenters as “grouchy” and in need of a “chill pill.”

Meanwhile New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera dug deeper into Gladwell’s article and discovered even worse deception and journalistic malpractice. Gladwell had grossly distorted a crucial piece of evidence that supposedly proved that Enron’s bad accounting practices were out in the open and easy to spot:

As his coup de grâce, Mr. Gladwell writes about a group of Cornell University business school students who looked closely at Enron financials in the spring of 1998, over two years before the fraud was exposed. According to Mr. Gladwell, the students concluded that Enron’s business model was far riskier than its competitors. And they found “clear signs” that “Enron may be manipulating its earnings.” They put a sell recommendation on the stock, then at $48 a share.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the students’ work on the Internet. Their research report does indeed have a sell recommendation. But it’s not really because the students thought Enron had deep problems. Indeed, the report praises much about Enron and its business. The main issue was a “lack of upside potential in the near term.” Over the long term, the students had a neutral rating on the stock. The students put a price target of $42 — not exactly something you’d do if you suspected fraud.

As for that line about manipulating earnings, that’s in the report, too, but it is also not quite as Gladwell makes it out to be. The students used a complex statistical tool called the Beneish model, which helps investors detect whether there might be some earnings manipulation. Sure enough, that is what the model suggested. But then the students went on: “Further analysis of these indicators showed no cause for concern.”

Gladwell’s sly defense of Enron came out just as the financial industry and corporate America were launching a coordinated campaign to gut the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which had been passed in the wake of Enron to beef up oversight of company accounting and to stiffen penalties for accounting fraud. Industry argued that Sarbanes-Oxley made the cost of doing business too expensive, and threatened America’s global competitiveness. None other than the newly installed Federal Reserve Chief Ben Bernanke came out supporting a drastic gutting of the bill; so did President George Bush.

Tea Party sugar daddy Charles Koch slammed Sarbanes-Oxley Act, telling the Wall Street Journal’s Stephan Moore (also on Koch’s pay at the Cato Institute) that the costs of complying with the accounting requirements were so onerous that they threatened to destroy publicly traded companies.

It was this coordinated industry campaign that caused New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera to get so weirded out by Gladwell’s article, considering the timing and the message:

I confess that I thought I was done with Enron. But it strikes me as important to wrestle with Mr. Gladwell’s position. Already, “Open Secrets” has been embraced by those who argue that the Enron prosecutions were an effort to “criminalize” what amounted to flawed business decisions. The efforts to weaken Sarbanes-Oxley are also rooted in the idea that the country overreacted to Enron and the other corporate scandals. In effect, the central defense argument — that Enron didn’t really do anything illegal — has been given new life by Mr. Gladwell. And it isn’t remotely true.

Gladwell responded to criticism of his Enron article with a typical PR industry technique: obfuscation and redirection. In a 2008 interview with New York magazine, he sidestepped the issue altogether, saying that his articles aren’t supposed to be authoritative or correct, but simply to “provoke a debate” on the subject. “I don’t think it’s proper for someone in my position to be a definitive voice. These books and New Yorker articles are conversation starters.”

What kind of conversation starters? The kind that engender personal gain from whatever toxic industry Gladwell happens to be shilling for at the moment?

A few days after his Enron article came out, Gladwell praised former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson for his dedication to “public service.” As Gladwell framed it, Paulson selflessly quit Wall Street to serve as U.S. Treasury Secretary. Gladwell further wrote that Paulson was part of a Washington D.C. “group that’s self-selected toward public service, as corny as it sounds.”

Aw shucks, it’s so corny—and yet so sincere!

In reality, Paulson’s move to Treasury was the furthest thing from selfless: Because of laws requiring him to sell his shares in Goldman Sachs, Paulson saved himself at least $100 million in tax bills. That’s because, by law, any investments sold to avoid conflicts of interest are exempt from taxes. On top of that, Paulson used his position of “public service” to dole out trillions of bailout funds to his former banking colleagues, including mega-billions to Goldman Sachs—one of the biggest beneficiaries of Paulson’s bailout scheme—at the end of the Bush presidency. His replacement at Goldman, Lloyd Blankfein, helped draw up the bailout plan with Paulson.

And yet, to once again quote Malcolm Gladwell, Paulson’s decision to leave Goldman Sachs and come to Washington, D.C. was just more proof that that the capital is home to the nation’s most elite “intellectual and social culture” that thrives not on money, but on “ideas and social interactions.”

Gladwell does not disclose his corporate client list, but his name does pop up from time to time headlining various financial industry companies, conferences and promo events. Most recently, Bank of America hired Malcolm Gladwell in November 2011 as a spokesman for a multi-city speaking tour promoting BofA’s small business lending services.

Nov. 16, 2011, 9:00 a.m. EST
Bank of America Features Malcolm Gladwell in Speaker Series for Local Small Business Owners

Renowned Author Joins Local Leaders to Help Small Business Owners Focus on Success

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Nov 16, 2011 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Taking another step in its ongoing effort to encourage small business growth, Bank of America today announced it has conducted a series of events with Malcolm Gladwell to deliver quality education and actionable advice to small business owners in various markets throughout the country. This program, entitled “Bank of America Small Business Speaker Series: A Conversation with Malcolm Gladwell,” was held in Los Angeles on September 27, in Dallas on November 3, and in Washington, D.C., on November 15.

. . .

In each market, Gladwell’s presentation was preceded by a panel discussion on relationship capital, a core component of business success, moderated by a Bank of America Small Business regional leader and featuring a cross section of prominent business leaders from each local market.

This wasn’t just a speech given at a conference, but a multi-day, multi-city event designed to promote Bank of America’s commitment to small businesses at a moment when the banking industry was in the middle of a PR nightmare.

Washington Post’s Melissa Bell wondered: “Malcolm Gladwell: Bank of America’s new spokesman?” Writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, Paul Starobin remarked that the “entire point” of Gladwell’s participation in the event “seemed to be to forge a public link between a tarnished brand (the bank), and a winning one (a journalist often described in profiles as the epitome of cool).”


Malcolm Gladwell says that he got into journalism by accident, that his real dream was to work for an ad agency. “I decided I wanted to be in advertising. I applied to eighteen advertising agencies in the city of Toronto and received eighteen rejection letters, which I taped in a row on my wall,” he wrote in his What the Dog Saw. If true, then Gladwell didn’t fail at all. Rather, he has achieved his dream of becoming an ad man beyond all expectation. His position as a public intellectual and respected New Yorker makes him infinitely more effective and useful as an ad man than he would ever be if he were sitting and writing ad copy in the office of some big-name advertising conglomerate.

Yep, Gladwell has come a long way from his youthful days at the National Journalism Center, but, on the other hand, he hasn’t really moved at all. As Philip Morris put it, the National Journalism Center “was developed to train budding journalists in free market political and economic principles . . . to get across our side of the story.” Their investment in Malcolm Gladwell has paid off beyond their wildest dreams.


* Russell Barkley got over $50,000 from Eli Lilly, maker of ADHD drug Strattera, from 2009 through 2011. Timothy Wilens took almost $10,000 grand from Eli Lilly just in 2009, and was written up by the New York Times.


S.H.A.M.E. will be pleased to correct any factual errors in this report. Contact the S.H.A.M.E. correctional unit at

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  1. Capo Regime

    Ives–bravo. The clever and hip propagandists dressing their utterances in clever scientism are the most dangerous. Truly we are overrun by sophists and they have mastered well worn pr techniques and frigging social media! Ah if Bernays were alive today, Gladwell would be the star pupil.

    1. JamesW

      Bravo indeed!!!

      I’ve been complaining about Gladwell’s propaganda and misinformation forever, including that drivel, The Tipping Point, where the majority of the studies he cited have long since been invalidated (long before he ever wrote the book, that is).

      And Outliers was specious in its reasoning, leaving out how sooo much factual information on Bill Gates’ background (how he was favored in receiving the MS-DOS contract originally; how his uncle was the VP at First Interstate who provided the startup financing originally, etc., etc., etc.).

      Bravo on exposing yet another misinformation specialist in the employ of the American Myth-Media.

      1. jake chase

        One of the benefits of not reading newspapers: I never heard of this guy Gladwell. Bernays, yes. Are there still people who believe newspapers and magazines are anything but propaganda? Those things can be useful; just don’t read them!

  2. Lady Bug

    Are you taking nominations for your Hall of Shame? I’d like to propose Niall Fergerson. Same sort of propogandist as Gladwell. I can’t believe how the overly (wrongly) educated fuss over both fools.

      1. PhilJoMar

        As a Scot I have some insight into this character, I believe, and the truth is that there are quite a few of these Scottish Tory boys lowering public discourse in the UK. I don’t follow what Niall gets up to in the US but I’m pretty certain he believes everything he says. He does seem to like attention, flattery from the rich, and earning a ton of money but he is a familiar figure in the UK: for him the old Empire civilised large portions of the globe and gave way at just the right time for the coming behemoth, the US. The latter is not even the lesser of many evils for him, all the good things about the US are free markets etc. and all the imperialist wars are aberrations or honest mistakes. Of course he is fundamentally intellectually honest but does he believe his own shtick…you betcha!!!

      2. JamesW

        Ferguson is a colossal status quo and Wall Street type: he’s been going around claiming the economic meltdown was just a one-of-a-kind, “epiphenomena” — ad nauseum.

        His works have been simplistic uninformative hash jobs: he’ll mention that Alfred Hartmann was hired by the Rothschilds (in the second volume of his two books on the Rothschilds), without mentioning anything about the scandals surrounding him, BCCI, etc., etc.

        A good directory for questionable academic types, so I’ve been told, is the membership list of the Bretton Woods Committee (not that one, a modern lobbyist group for the international rich):

  3. Capo Regime

    Admittedly this is cynical but I would not put it past Madison avenue types to determine that multicultural and or multiracial spokespeople with an interesting story test well among the chattering classes…

    1. Colin

      Don’t forget the non-profit institutional equivalent of
      him, Morris Dees:

      What is the arch-salesman of hate-mongering, Mr. Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center doing now? He’s saying that the election of a black president proves his point. Hate is on the rise! Send money!
      Without skipping a beat, the mailshot moguls, who year after year make money selling the notion there’s been a right resurgence out there in the hinterland with massed legions of haters, have used the election of a black president to say that, yes, hate is on the rise and America ready to burst apart at the seams, with millions of extremists primed to march down Main Street draped in Klan robes, a copy of Mein Kampf tucked under one arm and a Bible under the other, available for sneak photographs from minions of Chip Berlet, another salesman of the Christian menace, ripely endowed with millions to battle the legions of the cross.
      Ever since 1971 US Postal Service mailbags have bulged with Dees’ fundraising letters, scaring dollars out of the pockets of trembling liberals aghast at his lurid depictions of hate-sodden America, in dire need of legal confrontation by the SPLC. Nine years ago Ken Silverstein wrote a devastating commentary on Dees and the SPLC in Harpers…

  4. Goin' South

    “What is truth,” Pilate asked rhetorically, implying there is no such thing.

    In this age when the brains, tongues and typing fingers of scientists, academics, journalists and “public intellectuals” are for sale, it’s quite a challenging question.

    In Late Stage Capitalism, it would appear there is an answer for Pilate:

    The truth is whatever you can pay to make it.

    1. rotter

      or who cares, i wash my hands of the stain of you little people ( no one is responsible. its “the times”)

    2. Dirk77

      “Good business is where you find it” – Robocop. Ask me again why I ever thought capitalism required no rules.

  5. craazyman

    I am so unbelievably out of touch that I’ve never even heard of this guy — until now.

    It’s like the movies. No idea who the hot movie star is these daze. I guess Ginger Rodgers is over the hill by now. hahahahah. But there’s always Youtube, where nothing ever dies.

  6. Jay Schiavone

    I have only ever known Gladwell as a writer for The New Yorker, but he has always rubbed me the wrong way with his half-baked (or, often, uncooked) assertions. It’s always been painfully apparent that he is a consummate hack, but I was unaware of his mendacity. His notorious 1997 essay, “The Coolhunt,” is very revealing of his eager credulity. Also, his explanation of why the Beatles were so successful is absurd.

    1. rotter

      Gladwells musings on the Beatles prove conclusively, that he dosent know the first thing about his subject when he starts writing. Hes a bullshit artist. One UK music critic called him “The Side-Show Bob of cultural theory”..LOL..its the FRO

  7. Capo Regime

    I’ve despised Gladwell and their creation of silly memes. Once my 8 year old was totally freaked out because her teacher told the class they would need 10,000 hours to get really good at something. This was of course lifted from Gladwell. An so decided to part with tuition for a waldorf school. This may seem silly to some but to me it demonstrates the way the notions oozed by such hacks spread and cause damage. That his silly ideas caused anxiety to a group of 8 year olds is just a microcosm of the damage of studpid ideas. Add social media and we are awash in dangerous claptrap from dawn to dusk…

  8. Sophie Johanssen

    The Enron part of this exposé is extremely well done. What a scumbag.

    I’ll try and link to this report whenever I see things by Gladwell posted anywhere.

    Does anyone know how (or if it’s possible) to have this information added to Malcolm Gladwell’s wikipedia page?

    1. TK421

      Sure, it’s possible. Just register a user ID at Wikipedia and edit away. You might have to defend your additions to other users, however, but if your citations are airtight it should not be a problem.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          If you have the energy, you can get key facts in from the sources Yasha cites, rather than citing Yasha.

    2. Warren Celli

      Oh yes, Enron and shills, nice to see that we are finally getting closer to the real evil of it…


      “Facts have recently emerged about several journalists who quietly pocketed sizeable checks from Enron. Now, maybe I can be helpful. In a collegial spirit, I’d like to provide — at no charge — some wording that they could use in their own full-page ads.

      Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, has reluctantly admitted that he received $100,000 for a two-year stint on an Enron “advisory board” that didn’t do much of anything.

      An Open Letter from Bill Kristol: “Members of the vast left-wing conspiracy are trying to make a big deal out of a hundred grand. That’s less than our magazine’s annual martini budget! Let’s get real — I can’t be bought for that kind of money. Besides, if you don’t want capitalism with a rapacious edge to it, you’ve got the alternative of soul-murdering Communist tyranny…”

      New York Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman got $50,000 from Enron to serve on the company’s phantom-like advisory board in 1999, before he joined the newspaper.

      An Open Letter from Paul Krugman: “The people I condemn in my columns have ripped off millions, even billions. I’m not in their league. They are demagogues and robber barons. I am an entrepreneurial member of the affluent middle class…”

      Republican wordsmith Peggy Noonan, who writes purportedly visionary commentaries for The Wall Street Journal, has said that she was paid between $25,000 and $50,000 for assisting Enron’s Lay with a speech and annual report.

      An Open Letter from Peggy Noonan: “Are we to become a land of mediocrity or meritocracy? I see a shining city on a hill. May the spirit of America, with its free enterprise and hard-working God-fearing citizens, lift our hearts to rejoice in our nation’s triumph over the slow suffocation of envying freedom’s apostles. Yet some wish to tarnish the legacy of saintly Ronald Reagan, while disparaging me in the process. Forever is the memory of one spring morning when I met with President Reagan in the Oval Office, and I gazed into his eyes, crystalline windows of his spiritual magnificence…”

      The current need to refurbish media reputations is extending far beyond the perimeters of the Enron scandal, however. Last fall, Geraldo Rivera joined the staff of Fox News Channel so he could rush off to Afghanistan — where he quickly gained attention for claiming to be situated where he actually wasn’t, all the while posturing as an intrepid correspondent on the front lines.

      An Open Letter from Geraldo Rivera: “Due to my idealism, I allowed myself to get carried away. But a war was on, and as long as Rupert Murdoch pays enough, why shouldn’t I shoulder arms in the Fox army? There’s no such thing as being too patriotic or too ambitious. So what if I made stuff up? I was waving the flag — you got a problem with that? Gimme a break…” “

      More here;

      Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

      1. Nathanael

        As Krugman has said, he actually didn’t even get $50,000 because he quit partway through in disgust after realizing his name was being used for whitewashing.

  9. SDB

    I’ve read a few of his books. I liked them. But I’ve been completely unfamilair with his other work, including what’s included in this article and his time at the New Yorker. But I have to wonder if he’s getting too bad of a rap here?

    How many corporate shills do you see talking like this? :

    Is it possible he’s more nuanced than you all are giving him credit for?

    I think it’s possible I’m just not familiar enough with a lot of his work.

    1. travizm

      I thought he wrote undercover economist which was a cool book but….no

      he has only written books that I was unsatisfied with (blink, tipping point).

  10. You'll smell

    I guess I never knew about this wooly-headed dog because he writes for the woefully, comically phony New Yorker. “You’ll see.” A slogan for suckers if ever I heard one, that contentless promise of vicarious sophistication. Like Updike sitting in his chair realizing shit.

    1. Lidia

      THANK YOU! All my life I’ve felt I was alone in being unable to find merit in anything of Updike’s that has found its way in front of my eyeballs.

    1. Moe

      Thomas Frank is not a shill. Gladwell is indeed more nuanced than this but nuance isn’t really S.H.A.M.E.’s thing. If you read this as a companion piece I think you’ll get a better picture of what he’s up to. The money/meme laundering networks here are no doubt a lot more convoluted and I imagine Gladwell currently feels backed into a corner to an extent, because he’s taken to punctuating more recent stories with a lot of penance-seeming passages on the ills of income inequality—that or his particular minders in this racket now want to soften the message somehow. He’s a truly fascinating case, actually.

      1. knowbuddhau

        Allow me.

        AMY GOODMAN: Well, talk about what you see as the tremendous victory of the right, not just through the 2010 elections.

        THOMAS FRANK: Well, they shouldn’t even have a chance here. You know, these people—these people should be as discredited as Herbert Hoover and the Republican Party were in 1936. Do you remember? I mean, of course, we don’t personally remember. But when they ran Alf Landon for president in 1936, and it was just this incredible blowout by the Democrats, one of their greatest victories of all time. That’s the trajectory we should be on right now. The old order was just, you know, massively discredited by what happened under George W. Bush. And it’s the Democrats’ — you know, it really is the Democrats’ failure that they haven’t—that they haven’t driven that message home. [“Pity the Billionaire”: Thomas Frank on the “Unlikely Comeback of the Right” Ahead of Iowa Caucus. January 3, 2012. ]

        I happened to be awake at 5 AM that morning, so I watched the broadcast online. I didn’t mean to hector Frank via Twitter, but he kept saying the most outrageous things. Worse, Goodman never challenged him.

        Why haven’t the Democrats “driven that message home”? Obviously, because they’re in on it. Let’s remember that it was Clinton’s admin that killed Glass-Steagall. And now it’s taken an especially egregious form under Obama.

        COHEN: A lot of people know that there was a memo written by Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer lawyer, to the US Chamber of Commerce in 1971 in reaction to the new left, saying that big business has got to fight for itself: we’ve got to do messaging; we’ve got to deal with liberals and leftists in academia; we have to challenge the media. And that Powell memo set off a series of fundraising by big corporate forces and big donors. They set up their think tanks; they set up the Heritage Foundation; they mobilized the Christian right.

        JAY: Also in response to, I guess, partly what you’re calling new left, but the antiwar movement. The politics was very in flux.

        COHEN: Oh, yeah. And, understandably, this corporate lawyer, who became a US Supreme Court justice after the memo was written�but the memo didn’t surface until he was already on the Court, or he may never have been confirmed�they had real reason to be upset. And he’s writing it to Chamber of Commerce, saying the business class has got to stand up for business and fight these forces of, you know, new left, anticorporate�.

        JAY: Sometimes referred to as the forces of anarchy, I think.

        COHEN: Yeah, right. And what’s interesting is that that memo to the US Chamber of Commerce�we look at the Scott Brown victory, where he takes Ted Kennedy’s seat, and everyone knows that the US Chamber of Commerce was a big player in getting Scott Brown elected as a populist. Alright. So, largely their goal was how do we take a mainstream party, the Republican Party, and turn it into an agency of the corporate right. And they did that over a period of decades. What’s not talked about as much is that there was a parallel movement that started in the 1980s, which was to take the other major party, the historic party of the people, the Democratic Party, and turn it more toward the corporate right. And what happened in the 1980s�and it was in fear of these same forces�labor unions, new left, antiwar, environmentalist, feminist. There was this sense that the Democratic Party was too allied with these movements, these social movements that were representing millions of people, so the Democratic Leadership Council was set up. It was set up, funded by oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, tobacco companies, some of the biggest companies in the country. It was largely a corporate front inside the Democratic Party to fight the movements in the Democratic Party and move the leadership of the party toward corporate prerogatives. Who were the leaders of it? Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Joe Lieberman. These were three of the big figures, and, of course, they were the presidential and vice presidential candidates in ’92, ’96, and 2000. So it was, frankly, a very successful movement. Well, let’s update the Democratic Leadership Council. In 2000�. And they set up a few other groups, think tanks, that would push what was their agenda, so-called free trade, deficit reduction, budget balancing, and taking on the teachers unions, school vouchers. So now let’s move to 2006, and a new group is formed as part of this constellation of moving the Democratic Party to the corporate right, and it’s a group called the Alexander Hamilton Project of the Brookings Institution. And the director of it is Robert Rubin, who had been the Treasury Secretary for Clinton, had been at Goldman Sachs and, later, Citigroup. Roger Altman had been US Treasury Department under Clinton. And there’s an amazing thing. And this group is set up for budget deficit, international trade, taking on the teachers union, and they had their founding meeting in April 2006. And only one US senator shows up to speak at this founding meeting, and that’s a very new senator, Barack Obama from Illinois, who’s only been in Washington a little over a year. So for a lot of us who were tracking Obama in 2007, of course he got a lot of $25 and $50 donations from people that really wanted change they could believe in, but in 2007, way before he was a front-runner, he was out-fundraising all the other candidates from Wall Street. And it was something I’ve never quite been able to figure out. There were two presidential candidates from the state of New York, Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton, and Obama was out-fundraising them from Wall Street early in ’07. Now, Wall Street money and corporate money always goes to the front-runner. Obama was getting this money before he was the front-runner. So the missing piece to the puzzle is this clip where Obama is the only senator who shows up at the Alexander Hamilton Project.

        SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): Thank you very much. I would love just to sit here with these folks and listen, because you’ve got on this panel and in this room some of the most innovative, thoughtful policymakers. I want to thank Bob and Roger and Peter for inviting me to be here today. I wish I could be here longer.

        COHEN: By the way, Alexander Hamilton in American history was, you know, leader of the Federalist Party, was seen as the elitist party. And the Democratic Party of Thomas Jefferson was founded as a party of the people that would challenge the elitism of Alexander Hamilton. And here you have all these Wall Street Democrats setting up this group, had Obama as their first speaker from the US Senate, and in the clip Obama says that he wants to thank Bob, Roger, and Peter. Bob is Robert Rubin. Roger is Roger Altman. These are Clinton Wall Street Democrats. And who’s Peter? It’s Peter Orszag, the first founding director of the Hamilton Project, who then becomes, later, Obama’s head of Office of Management and Budget. So what you’ve had is the Democratic Party since the ’80s, big corporate money going in there, trying to elevate these candidates, giving them money, giving them a lot of media protection. This is a Democrat who can get elected, who can appeal to those swing voters. And so we’ve had Clinton, Gore, Lieberman, and now Obama that are part of this. Now, Obama was never close to the Democratic Leadership Council, but it’s interesting that a newer incarnation of Wall Street Democratic think tank, he’s there at their founding meeting.

        JAY: So the progressive political movement or segment of the population should have known most of this. Now, they may not have known about the Hamilton Project, they may not have known some of the specific details, but if you listen to what candidate Obama said philosophically�he was asked about his foreign policy. He said, “I come from a tradition of American pragmatism.” He would date�the lineage began with Truman. He would even include George Bush senior. On economics, on any serious interview, he talked like a center, center-right politician, but the progressives all kind of drank the Kool-Aid.

        COHEN: They heard the slogans, which was “change you could believe in”. When there’s thousands of people at a rally all holding up signs that say “change”, you know, people sort of glommed on a message that they wanted to hear. The important thing that Obama said as soon as Hillary was out of the race�. Remember when both Hillary and Obama were trying to present themselves as populists who are against NAFTA in Ohio? Which is a joke, ’cause they’re both free traders. But as soon as Hillary was out of the race, what did Obama do? He runs to CNBC and says, “I’m a free-market guy. I believe in the market.”

        OBAMA: I am a pro-growth, free-market guy. I love the market. I think it is the best invention to allocate resources. [“Progressives and the Democratic Party Part 2.” February 3, 2010.

        If Frank, despite all his erudite locution, really thinks the Dems need only drive home a message to win, a message that just so happens to ignore a 30-year move to the right, then he’s a partisan shill.

        1. buddhaislame

          Okay, thinking that maybe “knowbuddhau” was onto something about Tom Frank allegedly being a shill covering up Democrat rightwing neoliberalism, I clicked on the link to the same Amy Goodman interview quoted, and here’s what Tom Frank says. Clearly the shill is “knowbuddhau”:

          “AMY GOODMAN: What could Obama have done or do now differently? And what do you see?

          THOMAS FRANK: I don’t want to—I don’t want to pretend that it’s all a matter of rhetoric, but Obama certainly could have—I mean, there’s all sorts of things he could have done differently. The main one is the bailouts. The bailouts, this was the toxic pill, you know, the toxic medicine that both parties swallowed, you know, and the Republicans, both the—you know, the people in the Bush administration who devised it, Hank Paulson, and the Democrats in Congress that voted for the TARP, including Barack Obama—he was a U.S. senator at the time—but then he—you know, he continued the bailout policies of the Bush administration. He didn’t change them.

          One of the big things that I unearthed that was mysteriously almost forgotten when we were having the bailout debate in 2008 was that we had bailouts in the 1930s. We’ve been down this road before. President Hoover inaugurated a huge bailout program. And Franklin Roosevelt was highly critical of it. This was one of his big selling points in the 1932 election, was to criticize the Hoover administration’s bailout policies as crony capitalism. These are insiders bailing out their friends. And there were some really, really choice examples to choose from back in those days, that, you know, it was very easy for him to make that case. Obama, by contrast—and then once Roosevelt got in, he kept bailing out the economy, but he did it in a very different way than Herbert Hoover.

          AMY GOODMAN: We have less than a minute.

          THOMAS FRANK: I’m sorry.

          AMY GOODMAN: Keep going.

          THOMAS FRANK: OK, what he did was he opposed Wall Street. He said, “No more money to Wall Street. We’re going to rebuild the economy by starting at the grassroots level. We’re going to rebuild small financial institutions.” Obama, by contrast, just completely kept the Hank Paulson model for doing the bailouts, which is, you know, money to Wall Street, give money to Wall Street.

          So that’s what Tom Frank actually said.

          So knowbuddhau did you just forget that part of the show you claimed to be listening to so intently when you concluded, after hearing that:

          “If Frank, despite all his erudite locution, really thinks the Dems need only drive home a message to win, a message that just so happens to ignore a 30-year move to the right, then he’s a partisan shill.”

        2. run75441


          Clinton did kill Glass-Steagall, he just buried it. Greenspan killed Glass-Steagall from the eighties onward by altering Section 20. By the time it was repealed and the National Bank Act altered, it was a shell of its former self.

      1. Shrilliam

        Not trolling. Loved Thomas Frank and the Baffler for many years. Lately he has become an apologist for inequality and the status quo, bigtime. Noncommittal and above-it-all contrarianism — similar in a way to that of Gladwell as described above — can be found monthly in his Harpers column, “Easy Chair,” wherein he has seen fit to let Abramoff off the hook (they shared a greenroom once), to reprise the tired hypothesis of post-war working-class agency having been an unnatural anomaly, etc. Again, former T Frank fan here, lately curious about the agenda of his left/right world in which the right always wins and the left always loses. He seems more and more not to mind, which makes sense considering what he’d be losing if things like Madison, Zucotti, Montreal etc portend something about the future. Which they do.

        1. Shrilliam's Taint

          You’re doing two things: 1) trying to shift the discussion away from Gladwell to Tom Frank, which has a purpose; 2) Making totally unsubstantiated claims about Tom Frank without supplying a shred of evidence. You and the other troll want to shift this discussion to a powerful leftwing voice and claim he’s a shill, but you provide no evidence. The giveaway that you’re a PR troll is the old PR 1A trick of beginning your trollery “I used to be a big fan of [NAME OF TARGET] but now…”

          1. Shrilliam

            Well as ‘psychohistorian’ comments below, “so many shills, so little time.” The Gladwell subject at hand suggests the possibility of other voices – similarly, taken normally as insightful and progressive, but who at heart ask us to go along with the thoroughly nauseating and overdone view that the great inequalities of our time are somehow an irresistable state of natural being. There are many. If nobody else is starting to think Thomas Frank 2012 might be turning into another one of those, behind his 90s sounding “ironic” tone, well, I guess that makes me unique and nuts. But not 100% a “troll.”

          2. Kim Kaufman

            For years I had a subscription to New Yorker. But after 2008 and I had to slog through puff pieces on Larry Summers, Geithner, Arne Duncan, etc., and then I found out that Remnick had written a book on Obama (and obviously “needed access”) I wrote a letter complaining and cancelled my subscription. I thought Gladwell was creepy but never could put my finger on why, so thanks for doing all the research. I will send this article out as far and wide as I can.

    1. John Drinkwater

      What aspect of this article, specifically, do you object to? What’s not serious about it?

      1. burnside

        Imagine, say, Christopher Hitchens in possession of this material – and the likely product.

        1. christ hitchens iraq war booster

          By the way, just wanted to give you a high five on the way you avoided answering that bum’s question about “What aspect of this article, specifically, do you object to? What’s not serious about it?” blah blah blah. I especially liked your PR out-flanking maneuver because it plugged Hitch, the old devil himself…as in me!

          That’s the thing with these limp liberals, they always want answers…

          1. burnside

            No. I just don’t think you should go after Gladwell with small-caliber fire, particularly where you’re in possession of a damning history.

            The content’s not bad for the purpose. The form sucks.

  11. Bob Lederer

    You don’t talk about it here, but his criticism of the market research industry in The Tipping Point was full of enough holes to be sold as swiss cheese.

  12. rotter

    Well one of the things that Gladdy asserts can be independently verified – he IS a parasite. He’s using a definition ,no doubt, that fits into the context of randian libertarianism (no worries malcom, randians love your kind of parasite!!!!) But hes also a parasite within the scope of a Marxist diagnoses..Good Job Malcom, you nailed that one!!!

  13. Michael Fumento

    This could have been a really good piece if only it had focused on, well, Malcolm Gladwell. So much was left unsaid, presumably because it didn’t serve an anti-business purpose.

    Thus, Gladwell is author of “Blink” which essentially poo-poos intellectualism in favor of the power of rash decisions. You can see the appeal to a nation that’s always been anti-intellectual. (Although today’s right-wing, as evidenced only in part by such things as Palin-worship, has taken this to new extremes.) Fact is, time and again the examples he gives in his books show exactly the opposite of what he claims. His book became a massive best-seller through the time-tested method of telling people not the truth but what they WANT to hear. That’s also the definition of a hack.

    Instead there’s this long attack on the National Journalism Center and its tobacco connection. Yet Big Tobacco didn’t start to become involved with the NJC until over a decade after Gladwell graduated! And about a decade after I graduated. Are we to be held responsible for actions taken by an organization long after we left it?

    And then there’s his alleged business-inspired defense of Ritalin. As it happens, I wrote a lengthy defense of ADHD drugs for the LIBERAL New Republic mostly critical of whackos on the RIGHT who treat ADHD medicine like some sort of witches’ brew designed to make little boys more like little girls. Some time after that I started TAKING Ritalin and it was a godsend. (The “dirty secret” of all amphetamine-based drugs is that that they improve cognitive function for EVERYBODY, regardless of whether they have ADHD. And they’re incredibly safe. Take just TWO 200 mg caffeine tablets and you’re liable to start hallucinating.)

    Maybe that’s what the authors needed: ADHD drugs to stay focused. Or at least a good editor.

    1. Hugh

      So did you learn these techniques at the National Journalism Center? You start with the standard concern troll: “This would have been a good piece (meaning it isn’t) if, alas, its authors had not been crippled by their ‘anti-business bias.’ Living as we do in a kleptocracy, I’m taking that last bit as you having a sense of humor.

      But of course, the article is not about the authors’ putative “anti-business biases”, but Gladwell’s pro-business ones, as demonstrated by his conflicts of interest and his questionable relationships with some of the most predatory corporate players out there: the tobacco industry, BigPharma, and Enron.

      I like too how you present an argument which the authors did not make and in rebutting it think to have discredited them. The article never does say when the association between Philip Morris and the NJR began, and I am not sure how you, just going through its program, would know of its funding sources, but it quotes from Philip Morris documents the following:

      “As a direct result of our support we have been able to work with alumni of this program . . . about 15 years worth of journalists at print and visual media throughout the country . . . to get across our side of the story”

      Philip Morris execs considered that their support of the NJR (whenever that may have begun) gave them access to its grads going back to even before Gladwell’s and yours participation in the NJR.

      It was a nice touch too to first go after the right on ritalin before asking us to give it blanket approval for millions of adolescents based on your individual adult experience with it. That just reeks of good scientific method. And the personal appeal makes criticism of ritalin dicier since you can take any attack on ritalin as an attack on you.

      What I am taking away from this is that the NJR looks to have done a pretty good job instilling basic persuasive propaganda techniques, but then I have only the little I have seen of you and Gladwell to judge from.

    2. TruthHurts

      Is this the same Michael Fumento fired by Scripps Howard after it was revealed he took undisclosed money from Monsanto while publishing blatant Monsanto propaganda? Here’s a quote from Businessweek:

      Michael Fumento’s failure to disclose payments to him in 1999 from the agribusiness giant has now caused Scripps Howard to sever its ties to him

      Scripps Howard News Service announced Jan. 13 that it’s severing its business relationship with columnist Michael Fumento, who’s also a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute. The move comes after inquiries from BusinessWeek Online about payments Fumento received from agribusiness giant Monsanto (MON ) — a frequent subject of praise in Fumento’s opinion columns and a book.

      In a statement released on Jan. 13, Scripps Howard News Service Editor and General Manager Peter Copeland said Fumento “did not tell SHNS editors, and therefore we did not tell our readers, that in 1999 Hudson recieved a $60,000 grant from Monsanto.” Copeland added: “Our policy is that he should have disclosed that information. We apologize to our readers.” In the Jan. 5 column, Fumento wrote that St. Louis-based Monsanto has about 30 products in the pipeline that will aid farmers, “but also help us all by keeping prices down and allowing more crops to be grown on less land.”

      He listed some of the products Monsanto has on tap: drought-resistant corn, crops that could reduce the need for environment-damaging fertilizers, and soybeans that might reduce heart disease.

      In his career at Hudson, Fumento has carved out a specialty debunking critics of the agribusiness and biotechnology industries. In 1999, he says, he solicited $60,000 from Monsanto to write a book on the business. The book, entitled BioEvolution was published in 2003. A spokesman for Monsanto confirmed the payments to the Hudson Institute.

      Asked about the payments, Fumento says, “I’m just extremely pro-biotech.” He says he solicited several agribusiness companies to finance his book, which was published by Encounter Books. “I went after everybody, I’ve got to be honest,” Fumento says of his fund-raising effort. “I told them that if I tell the truth in this book, the biotech industry is going to look really good, and you should contribute.”

      The Monsanto grant, he says, flowed from the company to the Hudson Institute to support his work. A portion went to overhead and “most of it” went into his salary. He says the money was simply folded into his salary for that year, and therefore represented no windfall to him personally.

      …Fumento insists that disclosure of financial transactions between op-ed columnists and the companies they cover wouldn’t be practical. The op-ed money trail is only now getting attention, he argues in an e-mail, because of BusinessWeek Online’s recent revelation that Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff had paid two columnists for years to deliver good press to his clients (see BW Online, 12/16/05, “Op-Eds for Sale”).

      “We’re in a witch-hunting frenzy now but, as after all witch hunts, people do return to their senses and regret the piles of ashes at their feet,” Fumento writes. “Often it happened fast enough the witch hunters found themselves tied to the stake. I do hope that happens here.”

      Fumento also points out that he criticized Monsanto publicly in a 1999 Forbes magazine column, calling the company “chicken-hearted” for caving in to pressure from environmentalists to terminate a seed program. “I acted completely ethically, and within a month or two nobody will doubt that,” Fumento says.

      While Fumento doesn’t think he should have disclosed the payments to his readers, Hudson’s CEO Kenneth R. Weinstein is less sure. Asked if the scholar should have disclosed his financial relationship with Monsanto, Weinstein pauses and says, “that’s a good question, period.”

      Entire article here:

    3. the tobacco third party advocate michael fumento?

      Is this the same Michael Fumento who is listed along with Malcolm Gladwell on an internal Philip Morris “third party” message development list?

      Why yes, it is!

      Glad you’re still on the clock! Hope the third-party wages are still okay even for second-tier has-beens like you. We realize that having to troll comment sections must be a big step down from your previous shilling, but hey…in this economy a job’s a job.

      Here’s the full doc for the curious:

      1. the tobacco third party advocate michael fumento?

        Here’s an excerpt from the list featuring Michael Fumento, Philip Morris third party advocate:

        Look right below “Milton Friedman”…

  14. Hugh

    Highly entertaining and informative. I am not familiar with Gladwell, but the main reason some of us came to the blogosphere was because we just weren’t finding good or trustworthy information in the MSM. One of the first lessons we learned was how important it was to understand the backgrounds of the “journalists” and pundits doing the reporting and opining. It is not so much knowing that they lie but how they lie that is the best way to unravel their spin and agendas. I sometimes suggested creating an encyclopedia of today’s journalists, similar to the Hall of Shame these writers are creating, but nothing ever came of it. I think it’s great that Levine and Ames are doing this. Glenn Greenwald also does good media criticism but it is not in an all in one format as in this article.

    Of course, we should not look at this as a few bad apples. The personalities of the MSM (as well as a fairly large chunk of the liberal blogosphere) are all rotten. They all ignore, misrepresent, propagandize, and distract, but they do so in different ways, some more egregiously than others, some more stealthily than others. The great thing about the internet is that once an exposé like this one is written it becomes an indelible part of the record. I do not think in any way it will change Gladwell, but it may effect his bottom line. It may make his sponsors and paymasters think that he is past his sell-by date. They will simply pay for another. And Gladwell? I suppose he has already made enough to live comfortably, but I think people like him don’t sell out the rest of us just for the money. Ego has a lot to do with it. And a hack with a tarnished brand is an ugly, pathetic sight.

    1. different clue

      Hopefully people here and there are making separate copies of this article, including indelible ink copies on lasts-for-centuries acid free paper, to make sure it really
      IS an indelible part of the record.

  15. stevelaudig

    I’ve read a couple of his books and about half way thru the second I realized that there was nothing original and that both books could be condensed into about two paragraphs each. the rest was restatement. He seems bright but isn’t, simply glib.

    1. Lidia

      I read The TP when it was all the rage, and came to the same conclusion. I think Gladwell falls into the same category as Newt Gingrich, described as: “a stupid person’s idea of what a smart person sounds like”.

  16. PaulArt

    I saw this cretin on a news show once, I think it was the equally Corporately unctuous Charlie Rose show. I never knew Gladwell and from that show I thought, wow, this guy is sure off the beaten track. I was impressed but still a little cynical. If not for this article by Yves I would still be in the darkness about creeps like Gladwell. Thank Yves, thanks indeed. I also used to think highly of New Yorker. Thanks for setting me right about that as well. Its pathetic the direction this country is heading in.

  17. Jim Haygood

    ‘The American Spectator —- notorious in the 1990s as the primary media organ promoting anti-Clinton conspiracy theories.’

    What portion of the “Arkansas State Troopers’ story” published in the American Spectator in 1994 was ever proven false? How much did the Clintons ever win in a libel suit to punish the alleged falsehoods?

    The answers are ‘none’ and ‘zero,’ respectively.

    ‘Conspiracy theory’ is the label the Clintons use to slime those who publish inconvenient facts about them.

      1. Colin

        p.s. the Oklahoma City “terrorist attack” destroyed
        the local federal prosecutor’s files on all of the Arkansas connections listed above.

        Coincidental that Building 7 contained the SEC and Enron
        material as well.

  18. Skeptic

    Do you really believe all of this? I’m not denying Gladwell’s links to “Big Tobacco” or some of the other info about his history that but I can hardly believe so many people (at least in the comments secion) are taking this so seriously. Is it honestly that radical of Gladwell to state that “Big Tobacco” and “Big Tobacco Execs” are completely different than Nazis?

    Yves, please tell me that you posted this because it was thought-provoking and not because it “tells it like it is” (which is how way too many people are taking it). I’d love to see you attack this article with the same degree of skepticism you’ve shown in the past for other authors…

  19. Ms G

    First rate investigative report unmasking another drone of kleptocratic propaganda machine, this one in the subtler guise of a “quirky nerd type” — at least with the self-avowed Rand-ians, and self-important neo-liberal shills you know exactly what you’re dealing with (almost).

    Thank you EXILED and Yves!

    This project has tapped a very productive vein of ore.

  20. Lidia

    The non-response response to Brad deLong makes Gladwell sound like Jonah Goldberg’s lost twin.

  21. Jim davig

    You will link to any specious nonsense these days. Too bad, as your original work is good.

  22. Fluffy

    Do you really believe all of this?[] Is it honestly that radical of Gladwell to state that “Big Tobacco” and “Big Tobacco Execs” are completely different than Nazis…

    Did someone say otherwise?

    Are you relying on the fact that her article was too long to get away with this misrepresentation? I scanned most of the last 2/3rds of it, but managed to come away with a reasonable sense of her intent. Gladwell is slipping propaganda into the mainstream middlebrow consciousness. He’s doing so for reasons that can be attributed to his long-standing rightwing tilt.

    She did a credible job of demostrating that. It is worth knowing. But he’s far from unique in this; many (most) pop culture “bestsellers” have a similar shtick. Their prime message is that you need to improve to fit into our FABULOUS culture — rather than that the culture should change.

    Ecclesiastses knew it all ~2500 years ago or more.

  23. run75441

    Is this Richard Simmons leaves aerobics and does shilling for money? I thought fros were out.

  24. Ms G

    Ole, Yasha! One can only hope that your dossier will prove to be a Tipping Point in Mr. Gladwell’s reputation and fortunes (at least as a stealth pseudo all-about-nothing author).

    Thank you!

  25. Tom

    This is nothing more than a cheap character assassination cleverly disguised as investigative journalism. It makes several very serious allegations but fails to prove any of them.

    You have called Gladwell a shill but have failed to produce even a single link between him and any of the industries you claim he shills for.

    All you have proven is that he has strong opinions that often clash with the conventional stance – and, probably more importantly, your own.

    This is laughable – and the idiots congratulating you on this BS are obviously the kind of people stupid enough to think that because an article is long it must be right.


  26. Stratos

    Bravo, Yves! You really came out swinging.

    I always avoided Malcom Gladwell’s drivel. I’m glad this article lays bare his crypto-ties to the corporate right wing.

  27. Ms G

    Footnote. On the reference to Nocera calling out Gladwell, there’s a knife-edged irony to be noted as Nocera himself (according to Starobin’s CJR paper) not only took money to attend a (national security) conference in apparent violations of the NYT’s own ethical rules, but then refused to comment when approached by Starobin. Block quote below:

    “Back in October, New York Times op-ed columnist Joe Nocera, who often writes about finance, was taken to task by media critic Erik Wemple of The Washington Post for speaking at a securities conference in Miami sponsored by Wall Street firms including Goldman Sachs, J. P. Morgan, and Morgan Stanley. The gig appeared to breach the paper’s own rule for not permitting staff journalists to take speaking fees from any for-profit sources. Nocera “declined to address the speaking fee,” Wemple wrote, and he also declined to talk to me.”

    Link to full CJR Starobin article here:

  28. Patrick

    I fail to see how this investigative piece takes away from his insights about rapid cognition which is what he is best known for. One could certainly argue the “Blink” is not well written. Yet, the attention “Blink” has received has spawned more research into the rapid cognitive field.

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