Corporate Wrongdoing Cable Channel

Since more cable channels are coming to peoples’ homes, how about one devoted round-the-clock to corporate wrongdoing? There is plenty enough news about the misbehavior of companies that cheats consumers, harms workers, corrupts government and pollutes the environment to make the 24 hour channel a hot item on the remote control.

One can hardly open up the Wall Street Journal or Business Week without reading about corporate crime, fraud or abuse. But there is little follow-through after the newsbreak or feature is run.

Same is true for the national newsmagazine shows such as 60 Minutes or Prime Time — that is when they are serious about their time slots. Haven’t you wondered what happens after a great expose by these and other similar programs?

There is so little follow-through by law enforcement agencies or legislatures. Sometimes the culprits are brought to justice, but too often if you look at the scene two or three years later, the pattern of abuse is still thriving.

It seems as if companies are able to brush off exposes in the media far more successfully than a couple of decades ago precisely because there are so many articles and programs reporting such outrages that a banality of corporate badness sets in.

This is not to say that the media does even modest justice to the many good stories about bad companies and industrial/commercial/shenanigans, even on the first round. There is far too much trivialization, as Ted Koppel recently spoke about, and too much fluff, too much laziness and advertising pressure.

But what seems to be happening is that culpable companies ride out the first stories and escape responsibility and then accountability for necessary changes so that it does not happen again.

Look at the Year 2000 problem on computer systems everywhere. Back in the Fifties and Sixties, in order to save two digits of space, most large computer systems have used a dating system that assumes that 1 and 9 are the first two digits of the year. Now, specialists are warning of the Great Computer Crash of 2000 A.D. that could disrupt the whole country.

Banks, the Social Security Administration, the Pentagon, the I.R.S., manufacturers, airlines, the financial industry and corporate employers generally are all scrambling to “fix” the zillion lines of computer code. A consulting firm estimated it will cost just our country nearly half a trillion dollars, with one bank, Chase Manhattan admitting to a projected cost of about $300 million. You’ll pay for this boondoggle.

Amidst the hundred of articles written on the Year 2000 jeopardy, not one traces the problem back to the company (IBM) and other companies who were so myopic years ago as to think that there was plenty of time to correct the systems cheaply.

Investment analyst, Ed Yardeni, thinks that the Year 2000 problem has decent odds to cause a recession — so costly and disruptive is his scenario. His prediction record is not bad, either.

If the U.S. government caused this problem, there would have been no end of harsh criticism. Corporations caused the problem and almost nobody knows their name.

But the list goes on and on. Mad Cow Disease is in the news and it is linked to the relatively recent widespread practice of feeding animal remains of the same species to cattle and sheep. The rendering industry and cattle industry are involved in this cost cutting practice which the FDA has just banned.

But pigs, chickens and fish are often fed remains of their own species and this is still legal. Who are the companies and their executives responsible for this looming peril that is the subject of a new book on Mad Cow Disease published by Common Courage Press (Monroe, Maine)? Almost nobody knows their name.

Take recent traffic snarls and service disruptions by the nation’s largest railroad, Union Pacific. Grain, chemicals and other products are piling up waiting for transport to market. The federal government has declared a transportation emergency. Price increases to consumers are predicted. The cause: problems arising out of the merger with Southern Pacific last year — more unnecessary empire building, merger mania.

Have you heard of Union Pacific being held responsible for this debacle in any way that teaches it and antitrust enforcers any lessons for the future?

Boeing mergers with McDonnell Douglas and becomes the only large civilian aircraft manufacturer in our country. Overwhelmed with aircraft orders, Boeing admits last month of all kinds of delays, raw material gaps, inadequate number of trained workers and, one might add, risks to quality control and safety flowing from a speeded up assembly line.

Whether it is global warming or Big Business warming up to China’s leaders, in the midst of human rights charges, or some auto companies recklessly building air bags in ways that jeopardize small children, who should never be in the front seat, holding these companies responsible for their behavior is hardly on the screen, scarcely on the editorial pages of newspapers or magazines.

Does anyone know which companies make these land mines and other cruel anti-personnel weapons that destroy little children and civilian adults? The question and answer would not be part of any TV game show, that’s for sure.

A cable channel on corporate wrongdoing can give a sustained coverage over time and in some depth, beyond the occasional two minute news reports.

But that would require cable company responsibility. Even a cable company, that is given a monopoly license, is not likely to respond to this need.

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