By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Jack Welch’s journalistic values

What kind of a co-owner of the Boston Globe would retired General Electric chairman Jack Welch make? Assuming yesterday’s news gets beyond the speculative stage, that will become a key question. And according to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a left-leaning media-watch organization, the answer could prove to be troubling.

Remember, being a media executive is old hat for Welch: GE acquired NBC in 1986, just five years into his chairmanship. FAIR’s research found that GE’s business priorities affected NBC News’ coverage mainly through unspoken intimidation — but that Welch wasn’t above making his journalistic priorities explicit, either.

Here are some choice tidbits from a piece that Jim Naureckas wrote in 1995 in Extra!, FAIR’s magazine:

[Former NBC News president] Larry Grossman … was told in no uncertain terms what GE expected from him. “You work for GE!” Welch once shouted at his subordinate, poking a finger at Grossman’s chest (Ken Auletta, Three Blind Mice).

Welch told Grossman not to use phrases like “Black Monday” to describe the 1987 stock market crash, because it was depressing the price of blue chip stocks like GE. And warned the NBC News chief, “Don’t bend over backwards to go after us just because we own you.” Welch even told Grossman to allow Today show weather forecaster Willard Scott to keep plugging GE light bulbs (Lawrence Grossman, The Electronic Republic; Electronic Media, 11/11/91).

In 1991, Extra! reported that the Today show wouldn’t even touch a story about a boycott of GE products organized by peace activists as a way of drawing attention the company’s role in producing nuclear weapons. Todd Putnam, then the editor of National Boycott News, wrote that a producer told him he’d be “looking for a new job on Tuesday” if he were to greenlight such a segment.

Do you think Welch would take a high-profile ownership stake in the Globe while promising to keep his hands off the news coverage? I don’t. And his stewardship of NBC is powerful evidence.

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4 Comments

  1. another face at zanzibar

    Dan, At least we could count on Jack doing a “Voice of the Fan” column in the sports section. He’s a lot like the Joe Sixpack fan, isn’t he? In addition, his history with journalists is spotty. He romanced one (while she was preparing a piece on him) and then married her. watch out, Joan Vennochi. I wonder if the Sox might take an interest in a share of the Globe (an interesting switch, eh)?

  2. hooks

    While I was hoping Jack the Ripper’s “Voice of the Fan” segment would come to an end, this certainly wasn’t what I had in mind.

  3. Rhea

    It’s frightening to think Jack Welch could own the paper. I am aware of the NBC/GE thing and how slanted everything was after the buy.

  4. Anonymous

    A Globe with slanted news? Never!! (At least in THAT direction…)

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