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Edge of Media Manipulation

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The New York Times Plays Devil’s Advocate to God’s Messenger

March 15th 2012

Who is Greg Smith, and why do we care? He was an employee who quit Goldman Sachs in a public way and posted it in a New York Times op-ed. The better question is why should we care? After all, Goldman Sachs probably has had staff quit before for a whole host of reasons, from better opportunities to being disillusioned, to just not meeting the expectations or needs. Gee, I have had some really good people quit the firm where I work, and quit on me for that matter. Some wrote letters too.  It's not news; it's life.

Work is just that, work. Some love it, some hate it, and some find it a calling; others just work because they need to pay the bills. I work because I enjoy what I do, but also because I get bored doing nothing; and I can certainly use the money. So what is Greg Smith's deal that so many are now paying attention?

He quit one of the biggest financial institutions and lambasted it in perhaps the single most influential media venue still in print. Yet, it's not news. Goldman has some 30,000 people working for it, and what are the odds that Greg Smith was not the only employee to walk out that door this same week? It begs the question as to why the New York Times printed it in the first place.

I am employed at a public relations agency; I know that top-tier media like the Times is the crown jewel for clients and their op-eds. I can attest, and few will disagree, to the fact that for a regular Joe (or Greg) to land an opinion piece in its vaunted section is almost like waiting for Halley's Comet. It may take 76 years to get it done, or you may just miss the opportunity. So who again is Greg Smith?

Ah, he is the guy who did not just quit Goldman Sachs, but parted with a very public and scathing indictment of its internal practices and culture. Still, the term "disgruntled employee" was not just dubbed as Smith's letter ran. So what was it that caused the New York Times to pick it up?

The Times, as sought after and as widely read as it is, has lost some of its objectivity over the years. Its coverage of politics leans left, its coverage of foreign affairs leans left and its coverage of big business, banking and finance, tends to show the so-called darker side of industry. It often juxtaposes the very real plight of the working class and the unemployed, and the rich life of corporate America. The newspaper is sending a message rather than reporting the news.

Goldman Sachs is the biggest big business in the banking world today. Before the bubble burst many firms were here, now there are but a few, and Goldman is at the top. It makes for a good target when the economy, which tanked largely due to financial schemes and games played by such institutions, has yet to recover. Unemployment is still high, jobs are still few, and people are still losing their homes. The 2012 presidential election is likely going to be about the economy, and businesses such as Goldman are the enemy according to the thousands of people who gather in open spaces, set up camp and protest firms that employ 30 thousand people.

It makes for good headlines, imbues certain sectors of the public with anger, and motivates action; in this case that action is probably votes for the incumbent President.

Then there is the matter of Goldman's CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who is portrayed as some cross between the Simpson's Montgomery Burns and Mitt Romney; a big business advocate, evil in nature, who believes companies are people. If we accept that we are made in God's image, and a company is a person, than by extension, when Blankfein commented in a London Times interview in 2009, amidst a huge worldwide financial crisis, that he's doing 'God's Work," he left himself open to all kinds of megalomaniacal bourgeoisie focused criticism. That made it even easier for the New York Times to print Smith's letter - the so-called worker (well compensated Goldman Sachs Vice President) sticking it to the rich guy.

One thing is sure. If Blankfein were a crisis communications client of mine, I might advise him to soften his image a bit. It may have made the difference between the Times op-ed running or not. Here's a true story that might set a different tone. In the gym where he works out, Blankfein was sitting clothed in little else than his towel reading a newspaper. Another gym rat, riled up about some financial news ran toward him ranting and yelling, "do they know who I am?" - apparently having something to do with the news he thought Blankfein was reading. The two men did not know one another, yet angry guy persisted to explain himself to Blankfein saying, "do you know who the (expletive) I am?"

Lloyd Blankfein did not ask who angry guy was, nor did he tell the towel-clad yeller who he was - only the head of the biggest financial institution in the world. No, the Goldman CEO just let the guy rant and vent and then he continued to read his newspaper.

There was no ego buildup, no retort or even unwarranted advice. Just quiet contemplation while the guy made everyone else in that room uncomfortable. That is the story the Times would not report, because it flies in the face of the opinion they hoped to convey. Hence, if the Times has changed its editorial policies, then I still have clients who wish to be on its hallowed pages; it seems that desire may linger for a while to come. Since it's been done they may not take another, but I may still suggest an angry underdog rant on capitalists, oil companies or even a bank. You never know.

For Greg Smith, he just went from a fairly obscure well paying job - hardly the proletariat - to the left's Joe the Plumber. Now he'll write a book that the Times will help him sell. Alas, damn those capitalists!

Juda Engelmayer is an executive with the NY PR agency 5WPR and a contributor to the Cutting Edge News


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