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Is Malcolm Gladwell America's Most Successful Propagandist and Corporate Shill?

Propaganda works best when it is not perceived as propaganda, but works more subtly. The master of this nuanced approach is Malcolm Gladwell.

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The fact is, corporations and industries that Gladwell defends and promotes in print have paid him tens of thousands of dollars—more than what most Americans make in a year—for just a few hours of his time. And yet Gladwell feigns ignorance of the financial side of his speaking business—he even pretends he doesn’t know who or what pays him how much. As he told New York Magazine in 2008, "I never deal with any of the money-negotiation part . . . It just goes into my account, so it's like I'm not even aware."

A million dollars a year goes into his account, and he's not even sure what happens to it . . .

In Defense of Financial Deregulation

About six months before world financial markets froze up in the summer of 2007, Malcolm Gladwell wrote another one of his “contrarian” articles for the  New Yorker, this time  defending the actions of Enron executives. Gladwell was most concerned for Enron President Jeffery Skilling, who was convicted of 19 felony counts, including securities fraud, conspiracy and insider trading, and sentenced to 24 years in prison—after having dished out $40 million on his defense.

According to Gladwell, the prosecution and jury were wrong; Skilling didn't necessarily break any laws when he cooked books and conspired to defraud investors, prettying up Enron's financial statements while looting the company, leaving investors and employees fleeced and in some cases ruined. Gladwell implied, as is his wont, that the real culprits were the victims—investors who didn't do their due diligence and properly sniff out Enron's financial fraud, which Skilling and others did everything in their power to conceal. Gladwell argued essentially that corporations should be expected to lie, cheat and steal—the pursuit of profit was always blameless—it’s up to investors to ferret out fraud, and if they don’t, relying on the law and juries to punish the crimes was tantamount to rewarding investor failures. It was the same old Gladwell technique: blame victims for allowing themselves to be ripped off and robbed.


This profile is part of the new S.H.A.M.E. Media Transparency Project.  Learn more about it here.



Yasha Levine, President of S.H.A.M.E., is an investigative journalist and a founding editor of The eXiled. His work has been published by Wired, The Nation, Slate, The New York Observer and many others. He has made several guest appearances on MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan Show.

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