Jun 08, 2016 When America’s corporations get into bed with the darker side of government
Large corporations mainly are driven to satisfy shareholders, rather than to be beacons of social enlightenment, unless the second ideal serves the goal of satisfying shareholders. Unfortunately, part of that drive leads corporations to get into bed too often with the darker sides of government. That might help explain the entertainment industry’s widespread blacklisting from the late 1940’s into the 1950’s, of entertainers for being actual and suspected communists, or declining to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Or, did the entertainment industry also fear backlash from consumers and anti-communist entertainers to not blacklist? The blacklisting destroyed careers and wounded livelihoods; blacklisted script writers could hire non-blacklisted people to front for them, but actors and actresses could not.
Perhaps Hollywood’s blacklisting zeal of the 1950’s fed into state boxing commissions’ swiftly getting into line to bar Muhammad Ali from boxing, starting soon after he refused to be drafted and before he ever was convicted. (And Ali’s jury trial conviction and sentence were startlingly swift, taking place less than eight weeks after he refused to be drafted.)
What explained ridiculing press coverage of Ali’s refusal to be drafted? What explained the lopsided treatment of Ali by the state boxing commissions that stripped him of the ability to box, versus the treatment of draft-avoiding football players who did not suffer the same fate? ABC sportscaster Howard Cosell pointed out: “Nobody says a damn word about the professional football players who dodged the draft, but Muhammad was different. He was black, and he was boastful,” Yes, the entertainment and sports world reflects the world at large, including the racism that remains too rampant in society to this day.
Muhammad Ali suffered professionally and financially for the three long years that he was banned from the boxing ring. For any reason that Ali’s race had anything to do with an all-white jury’s convicting him, it took eight white male Supreme Court justices to vindicate Ali, finding an insufficiently articulated basis for the military to have denied Ali conscientious objector status. Muhammad Ali v. U.S., 403 U.S. 698 (1971). As an aside, the Supreme Court’s sole African American justice at the time, Thurgood Marshall, took no part in the Ali argument and decision, perhaps to avoid an appearance of a conflict of interest, since Marshall was President Lyndon Johnson’s solicitor general at the time Ali refused to be drafted.
Entertainment world backlash against those not conforming to government actions continued into this millenium, when country music radio stations right and left in 2003 stopped playing the Dixie Chicks after one of its members made a rather mild public rebuke against George Bush II’s plans to launch war in Iraq.
Fortunately, at least in the early stages, Dallas radio station 99.5 refused to stop playing the Dixie Chicks, with its program director, reported to have said that the firestorm against the Dixie Chicks was too early to forecast.
We see the entertainment and information news media get into bed too closely with the government in other ways. The film industry for decades has self-censored with a ratings system (G, PG, R and NC-17) that leads filmmakers to try to avoid an R or NC-17 rating — in order to sell more tickets — with the industry claiming that self-censorship is better than government censorship. Later we saw ratings in the entertainment industry beyond just films, for instance with video games.
Too many Internet companies have been too ready to kowtow to Chinese censorship, lest they lose China’s billion-plus population consumer market. Yahoo, at the very least, engaged in turning over information to Chinese authorities that led to the arrest and imprisonment of dissidents.
When the United States president or vice president complains about the news media, the executive branch may try to weaken the press in the process. Look at the Nixon administration’s failed efforts to ban the Pentagon Papers’ publication subsequent to vice president Agnew’s tirade against the news corps as “nattering nabobs of negativism”. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump already corralls reporters into a segregated pit at his rallies, and has a penchant for suing people for libel. If he becomes president, he will be no friend of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and free press.
Fortunately, not all is dismal. Howard Cosell stood up for Muhammad Ali, and Ali returned to the boxing ring against joe Frazier in 1971 before his Supreme Court vindication. Dallas radio station 99.5 stood up for the Dixie Chicks when a slew of other stations stopped playing them. Apple, Facebook and other information age companies sometimes stand up against government subpoenas of their records.
Because corporations need to listen to consumers in order to satisfy their shareholders, the public needs to let corporations know that consumers are not going to buy their goods and services when the corporations ill-advisedly get into bed with government.