Forbes Magazine used to headline its self-promotional advertisements with the moniker “Capitalist Tool.” A satiric dig at the then postwar bipolarized world where communists used the term as a pejorative accusation against western countries and as a treasonous charge against their own native suspects.
Chuckles aside, the Forbes selling machine has gone into high gear, not just in selling magazines to readers, but in selling its feature pages to insurance industry advertisers.
Over the past year, Forbes has merchandised its journalistic integrity as blatantly as any company house organ. In its June 26, 1989 issue, Forbes devoted a page to soliciting insurance company ads for a special supplement labeled “Insurers Outnumbered” to appear in the October 16, 1989 issue of the magazine. Just co-incidentally the cover story of the October 16th issue was a lengthy, wild assault on lawyers, who represent injured people, filled with bias, concocted data and hatred of the civil justice system in America. Co-incidentally, just what many insurance companies would have ordered.
It worked. The insurance supplement brought in nearly $150,000 and other insurance ads throughout that issue of the magazine brought in over $300,000 in additional monies, judging by Forbes magazine rate card.
Since that auction of its integrity, Forbes has made sure that comparable editorial temptations would no longer leave insurance companies “outnumbered” in its magazine. In the following months, Forbes kept up its feature article “editorials” against contingent fee lawyers (collecting only if they win compensation for clients), against civil juries behavior and for weakening the legal rights presently available to injured and sick people against wrongdoers or perpetrators of their harm.
The insurance companies are flocking to this honey pot of pro-insurance industry prejudice. In the 24 issues of Forbes from October 16, 1989 to August 6, 1990, insurance companies poured at least $6,214,000 in advertising revenue for their “capitalist tool.” By contrast, before Forbes became such an overt cheerleader, the 24 issues of Forbes published from November 14, 1988 to October 2, 1989, the insurance companies took out only $4,785,000 in ads. (These are conservative estimates based on Forbes’ rate card. Forbes does not reveal ad revenue breakdowns by industry.)
Interestingly, the two most aggressive insurance companies, Aetna and AIG, when it comes to lobbying to weaken victims’ rights, really beefed up their ads in Forbes. Many of these ads contained pitches for legislation that would regulate juries and judges so that victims of defective products such as cars and prescription drugs would have more difficulty achieving adequate compensation and other just results such as disclosing to the public information about hazards in the marketplace or environment.
Allstate placed no ads during the first period, but after receiving Forbes’ sympathetic concerns about “insurance bashing,” the Sears subsidiary placed about $124,000 worth of ads in the comparable time period after October 16, 1989. All these insurance revenue surges occurred during a time of relatively declining ad revenues in the business and news magazine industry.
The author of the October 16th article, and subsequent “advertorials” in reverse, participated a month later at an industry lobbying session with Congressional staff on Capitol Hill to support weaker product liability laws.
It is one thing for a business magazine to take strong editorial stands in its editorials or to produce tough articles in its feature columns, it is quite another matter when systematic distortion, errors and omissions correlate with such avid solicitation of advertisers who delight in such partisan yellow journalism.
In the article, for example, Forbes estimated that the cost of “the litigation scandal” is at least $80 billion a year directly and $300 billion indirectly. These figures come from a rabid Forbes columnist, Peter Huber, who cannot substantiate them beyond thin air
“Earnings” of top trial lawyers are estimated with great fanfare by name, location and picture. How did Forbes arrive at estimates of such confidential data? By “deduction of expenses, referral fees, partnership shares, etc. In short, net income (pre-tax) not gross sales,” writes a Forbes representative. The lawyers deny giving this antagonistic magazine such private, internal office data.
Where could Forbes have obtained this information? It never had it at all. The magazine relied heavily on newspaper clippings and gossip about settlements and verdicts, arrived at an arbitrary gross fee figure and then, astonishingly enough, told the readers that such gross revenues estimates were the lawyers’ “earnings.” A similar maneuver would have been to say that Exxon’s “earnings” in 1988 were just under $100 billion because that is what their gross revenue totaled.
The “capitalist tool” rolls along. In June Forbes opened up a new window of opportunity — boosting the atomic power industry with assertions right out of the atomic power industry’s propaganda.
But, in 1985, Forbes went after the atomic power industry for its runaway costs and risks. Costs are still running away and the risks are still mounting. But oh, how attractive, are its present appeals to caress its pages with nuclear and electric power industries advertising. “Capitalist tool” or capitalist pimp?