The Detroit News published an op-ed yesterday by a man so well-known for being a corporatist shill and profiteer that running it must have been a decision made by the News‘ advertising department. The piece was penned by a Richard Berman and attempts to lay the entire blame for the poor quality of Detroit Public schools at the feet of the teachers union and, more specifically, at the feet of Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
It hardly bears pointing out that Detroit schools didn’t get where they are because of greedy, self-interested teachers. You don’t go to work in Detroit public schools with the aim of becoming wealthy thanks to your cushy union job. Teachers in Detroit schools are, without hyperbole, in a battle zone on most days. They deal with violence, gangs, drugs, and hunger on an everyday basis, the tragic but predictable outcomes of the crushing poverty too many Detroit kids live in. That, of course, doesn’t stop Berman from demonizing teachers and characterizing them as nothing more than parasites looking to enrich themselves with no regard for kids.
Like I said, you don’t go to work in Detroit schools unless you are there for the kids.
So, why is Berman, a guy who doesn’t even live in Michigan, exploiting the horrible situation in Detroit schools as a way of attacking Weingarten, AFT, and teachers unions, in general? Because that is what he does. Berman is a professional shill, a corporatist profiteer who has made a lucrative career out of going on the attack to protect corporate interests.
Are suggestions that pregnant women eat a limited amount of fish due to mercury contamination hurting sales of your fish? Berman is there with www.FishScam.com to convince the public that mercury in fish poisoning the fetuses of pregnant women is no problem.
Are taxes on alcohol cutting into your company’s sales? Berman is there with www.NoDrinkTax.com to fight to eliminating taxes on alcohol.
In fact, there seems to be no limit to how low Berman will go to make a buck from corporations trying to increase profits and deflect any sort of criticism. At the end of The Detroit News piece, Berman is described as “executive director at the Center for Union Facts”. But the Center for Union Facts is just one of dozens of groups that Berman has created for the sole purpose of shilling for corporate interests. Here is a partial list of the groups that Berman has headed up, courtesy of the Center for Media and Democracy:
Needless to say, you will find scant information about who funds Berman’s work. He’s their front man, doing the dirty work they don’t want their fingerprints on.
Of all of the groups that Berman has gone after, unions seem to be his most frequent target. It’s no surprise of course. There’s nothing corporate America hates more than when workers come together to bargain collectively for a decent wage, reasonable benefits, and a shot at retiring with some dignity.
Mercedes Schneider’s EduBlog has a terrific takedown of Berman’s attacks on AFT HERE. Berman’s attacks on unions in a Superbowl ad drew that attention of the Washington Post who called BS on his so-called “union facts, giving the ad three Pinocchios. The Post also wrote about an “11-page mailing, on expensive paper stock, was sent first class to 125,000 households across the country” by Berman’s anti-teacher group. Berman also purchased two billboards in Times Square to attack the AFT and a full-page ad in the New York Times.
In other words, Berman is very, very well-funded. And a great deal of that money goes directly into Berman’s own pocket. The nonpartisan, independent charity watchdog group Charity Navigator issued a “donor advisory” when they learned that more than half the money that he took in was funneled into his “for-profit management company, Berman and Company”:
During our analysis of this charity’s FYE 2011 Form 990, the document revealed that more than half of the Center for Union Facts’ functional expenses were paid to its CEO Richard Berman’s for-profit management company, Berman and Company. The document revealed that, out of total expenses of $1.38 million, $870,000 were paid to Berman and Company for staff[ing] and operat[ing] the day-to-day activities’ of the charity.
Bloomberg News has more:
When Smithfield Foods Inc. (SFD) was trying to fend off a union organizing drive at its largest meat- processing plant, it hired public relations executive Rick Berman. They discussed “preparing the nuclear strike,” according to e-mail records.
Soon after, a non-profit called the Center for Union Facts began running television ads slamming the “union bosses” who were trying to organize Smithfield’s plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina. That was no coincidence: Berman also runs the center.
Berman operates five such non-profit groups from the offices of his for-profit Washington public relations firm. Those five organizations paid his firm $15 million from 2008 to 2010 for its work, tax records show.
Tax lawyers say this arrangement may violate Internal Revenue Service rules that prohibit executives from profiting off the tax-exempt entities they run. IRS rules also require charities to have a public purpose. […]
“Berman’s developed a cottage industry of setting up phony non-profit organizations to take in money from corporations that have a public relations problem,” Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society, which has been the target of Berman-led campaigns, said in an interview. “When you look at it in its full composition, it’s a very disturbing picture.”
This chart details some of the millions Berman has made with his “cottage industry”:
So this is the man that The Detroit News allowed to besmirch its pages with his pro-business, anti-union propaganda. We can only assume that the News was compensated for this advertisement, thinly disguised as an “op-ed”.
If not, they are just as guilty of waging an anti-union propaganda war as Berman is infamous for. In either the case, The Detriot News has lost any remaining credibility it may have had as a journalistic enterprise.