Follow The (Lack of) Money
BOB GARFIELD One way of combating lies, conspiracies and anti-democratic conduct, as we shall presently hear, is to create safe social media spaces to encourage civic and media literacy. It's a tough slog.
SIVA VAIDHYANATHAN Yes, so the first way is the classic liberal model, right? The idea that good information, good arguments will triumph over bad information and bad arguments over time. You know, in a certain context with certain rules and norms and agreements - that can work.
BOB GARFIELD Siva Vaidhyanathan, is a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia and author of Anti-social Media: How Facebook Disconnects US and Undermines Democracy. He says such solutions, important as they are, tend to be strangled at birth.
SIVA VAIDHYANATHAN People are subscribing to models of the world, claims about the world based on their identities, based on their relationships with others, based on what makes them feel better about themselves. It's a reflection of what social scientists call homophily, the clustering of the Like-Minded for the sake of comfort. And the fact is, information is a social phenomenon.
BOB GARFIELD And these particular like minded, the ones in red caps and body armor and horned helmets, don't respond to empirical truth except to mock it. And therefore, Vaidhyanathan says the most effective social sanction is one of the oldest.
SIVA VAIDHYANATHAN For many centuries, we have shunned, we have marginalized people who are behaving in a way or promoting information that undermines the smooth workings of society. To make sure that there is a pail beyond which it is difficult to traverse.
BOB GARFIELD Others call it cancelation or deplatforming, but by any name. In the past 10 days, the shunning has been stunning.
NEWS REPORT There's an effort to strip President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, of his law license. Southern California Democrat Ted Lieu has sent a letter to the New York State Bar requesting Giuliani be disbarred. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT Look at what Simon and Schuster did overnight. Taking away Josh Hawley's book deal. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick announced that he will not accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was set to receive the nation's highest civilian honor from President Trump on Thursday. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT The Professional Golfers Association of America is the latest organization to distance itself from President Trump after it announced that it will no longer host its championship at his New Jersey golf course next year. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Most unkindest cut of all. A prestigious major golf championship ripped away.
SIVA VAIDHYANATHAN That's some shunning and it's also the free market and the First Amendment working as designed. These are private actors and private entities making private decisions, taking responsibility for their own reputations, making informed decisions based on the information they have in front of them. It's what every conservative should applaud.
BOB GARFIELD Meantime, apart from pure shaming, there has been a fusillade of other sanctions for the Stop the Steal contingent. Most strikingly, political donation boycotts. There's a principle in drug investigations and political reporting to follow the money. At the moment, it's imperative to follow the no money. Dozens of corporations, among them AT&T, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, Goldman Sachs, Marriott, Morgan Stanley, MasterCard, Airbnb, Citibank and Dow-freaking-Chemical have said that they will not contribute to the campaigns of the hundred and forty seven congressional Republicans who voted to prevent Joe Biden from being awarded his electors.
JUDD LEGUM And that's been interesting. These aren't corporations that have typically favored Democrats. In fact, a lot of them have favored Republicans, 3-1, 5-1, 6-1, 8-1, and now they're saying we're not going to contribute to most of the Republicans in Congress, at least for the time being.
BOB GARFIELD Judd Legum is the author of the Popular Information Newsletter.
JUDD LEGUM One that particularly stuck out to me was Hallmark, who not only said that they would no longer be contributing to this group, but demanded their money back from Senator Josh Hawley. That struck me as particularly significant because they are headquartered in Kansas City, and one of the largest employers in Kansas City, which is in Josh Hawley's home state. So it's really one of the pillars of the community that Josh Hawley represents, saying you've crossed the line and you've crossed it so far we don't want to have anything to do with you.
BOB GARFIELD This did not go unnoticed in the Trump-o-sphere.
JUDD LEGUM Money is a language that people understand, and I can't say exactly why this happened, but I can say that Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader of the House a few days ago, was objecting to the certification of the Electoral College and backing up Trump 100 percent on his bogus fraud claims of this election, and today he says that Biden won the election and it's time to move on. And I don't know what he learned about the integrity of the election in the last week, but he did learn that continuing to spread lies about what happened in the election was going to cost him and a lot of his caucus, money. So, I think that money can have an impact on people's relationship to the truth.
BOB GARFIELD But this doesn't mean that the week in opprobrium is sustainable. Yet another kind of shunning is the boycott, and the history of boycotts is one of failure. Concerted shunning of Mitsubishi Motors, Nike, Nestlé, the DeBeers diamond cartel, British Petroleum and the fur industry did yield changes in corporate behavior. And the South Africa disinvestment movement famously changed history, but thousands of other campaigns ultimately petered out.
AMERICUS REED II Because it's just incredibly difficult for consumers to sustain the type of energy and motivational impetus to continue to inconvenience themselves over time.
BOB GARFIELD Americus Reed is a professor of marketing at the Wharton School of Business. He says a boycott is only as strong as it is easy. They are destined to die if the price of righteous indignation is too high or the expression of it too inconvenient. Especially in the social media era, when your disapproval can be expressed in an angry tweet.
AMERICUS REED II It creates the perception that doing little tiny things on an Instagram post or in a Twitter feed somehow feels like you're making a big impact. So people express a kind of faux morality, if you will, in social media. That's very, very different from what's required to actually inconvenience yourself.
BOB GARFIELD So some consumer boycotts never get traction, and some, like the assault on Goya Foods after its CEO praised Donald Trump, backfired spectacularly as when MAGA World bought so much Goya Goods, that sales went up. Meanwhile, corporate boycotts such as we are seeing now are even riskier because every one of the Fortune 500 companies that pulled the GOP political contributions are setting themselves up to being boycotted by the MAGA Faithful.
AMERICUS REED II What the company is deciding to do is to say, I believe that if I take a very strong position on something that are the core values of this organization's leadership, then I'm going to attract consumers that align with those values. I'm going to lose in people who disagree with me. But the people I gain net--net are going to be more loyal to me and hopefully I will gain more of them than I lose. And so that's the economic calculus that goes on. There's also perhaps layered on top of that, a kind of moral calculus where you as a company don't want to necessarily be associated with what might be perceived as an insurrection or a treasonous activity that happened with respect to attempting to topple the United States government.
BOB GARFIELD All of these considerations, he says, were in play when Simon and Schuster canceled its book deal with GOP Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri. A book that had been deemed a surefire hit with the rabid "own-the-Libs" book buying public.
AMERICUS REED II Once Josh Hawley's brand became associated with white supremacists breaking into the Capitol and killing people, that blockbuster amount of sales was no longer worth the risk of associating your brand with that insurgency over time. But if your brand becomes soiled by a significant perception of consumers, that's no longer a viable, profitable business relationship that I want to be in. And so Simon and Schuster says we're not going to be in that situation.
BOB GARFIELD Of course, anyone who has paid attention to the endless Fox News scandals over the past 10 years and the subsequent advertiser defections...
NEWS REPORT Faced with a growing advertiser exodus, Fox News and national radio host Laura Ingram is now apologizing after the...[END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT ...Advertiser revolt at Fox News, a long and growing list of companies pulling their commercials from The O'Reilly Factor. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT More than a dozen companies pulling or suspending advertising from Tucker Carlson's Fox News program. Comments about immigration. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Knows that sometimes there are business decisions, sometimes moral judgments, and sometimes simple posturing. An advertiser pulls out of Tucker Carlson show, lets say, his money gets moved to some other Fox programing. And when the controversy dies down back in the advertiser skulks. I asked Reed if there is a sniff test for understanding whether AT&T and the Chamber of Commerce and Dow Chemical are genuinely done with seditious Republicans or just virtue signaling for a cheap P.R. boost at a time when political contributions are at a seasonal low anyway, or worse yet, sneaking dark money into the system through an unbranded 501C4.
AMERICUS REED II The sniff test is the consistency over time that one is willing to authentically portray, even when it's hard to do it, even when that decision is unpopular, to be able to detect the difference between a consistent belief system that's being implemented and executed upon versus a kind of momentary going with what's best for the company based on the changing views of those in power.
BOB GARFIELD Popular Information's Judd Legum.
JUDD LEGUM I think American Express is a good example of that. Who said these hundred and forty seven Republicans have crossed the line. We're not giving money to them, and this is a permanent decision. And I think that's significant and shows something really meaningful because, you know, in two years, Kevin McCarthy, who was one of the objectors, could be speaker of the House and they could be in a position where they're not able to make any contributions to him or anyone in his caucus. So that might not be in their interest. So I give them credit for that.
BOB GARFIELD If you're a connoisseur of irony, credit this, too. In its notorious Citizens United decision, the Republican dominated Supreme Court lifted most spending limits on campaign contributions on the grounds that money is speech. For the GOP this week, the silence was deafening.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Coming up, building safe spaces on the Internet.
BOB GARFIELD This is On the Media.
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