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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bonus payouts at newspapers, and what they might say about the Occupy protests

Posted By on 10.25.11 at 08:00 AM

Yesterday, New York Times media columnist David Carr penned an unusually personal (for the Times) and particularly caustic article remarking on bonus payouts in the newspaper business. Carr singles out two media companies: Gannett, which owns USA Today, and the Tribune Company, which, well, you already know where that one’s going.

Carr notes that despite a free-falling stock price and huge cuts in staff, former Gannett CEO Craig A. Dubow recently resigned with “$37.1 million in retirement, health and disability benefits. That comes on top of a combined $16 million in salary and bonuses in the last two years.” This leads Carr back to his excellent and vicious examination of the Tribune Company from last year, in which he described some of the dealings that led to the estimated $115 million in bonuses paid out to Tribune executives over the prior three years.

The objective of Carr’s screed was to point out the absurdity in a USA Today editorial that reads, “Institutions take huge gambles because the short-term returns are a rationale for their rich payouts. But even when the consequences of their risky behavior come back to haunt them, they still pay huge bonuses.” Apparently, USA Today is unaware that this occurs in the offices of its owners.

What’s most interesting to me about the article, however—when Carr refers to “much of the American economy that used to make money by making things”—is how it uses the newspaper industry as a flashpoint for what’s being overlooked in the Occupy protests.

Much of the coverage of the Occupy protests tends to depict protesters directing their anger at Wall Street. That makes sense, since the Financial District of Manhattan is flush with corporate corruption, especially in the banking sector, which bears significant responsibility for the 2008 financial crisis. But it’s also only one component of the national business landscape, and that appears to create an impasse between protesters and “the 1 percent.”

One critical characteristic of executive- or even junior-level employees at many of the world’s top corporations is that they are very smart. They are hired because they are very smart (or because they take advantage of their connections, which is a different, but equally valid, form of intelligence, unfortunately). The reason that people in the banking sector seem to look at these protests as an irritating mess is twofold: They see themselves as smarter than the protesters, comprehending something that is totally incomprehensible to a layperson, and they see themselves as being isolated and subsequently vilified, which makes them defensive and feel as if they are being treated unfairly.

A halfway intelligent person can look at the massive disparity in our national income and the blatant criminality that has led to this disparity and conclude that it is ethically and morally indefensible to perpetuate this system. Therefore, stated correctly, the wealthiest 1 percent would have no reason to dispute the demands of the Occupy protesters, and eventually, much of the rest of the population.

This is why what I most look forward to in the Occupy protests is the point at which the demonstrations will begin to blossom into a larger discussion and description of financial crime, one that is bridged by comprehensible communication between both sides. Passion can unite, but it is not the only means with which to combat intellectually informed criminality. In order to stop intelligent crime, the mistreated must outsmart those who assume that they are intellectually superior. One can effect change through protest, but what will that change be? That seems to be the jackpot question.

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