The Walking, Talking Conflict of Interest
On Sept. 13, 1989, the day Henry Kissinger ended his tenure as a paid analyst for ABC News, he became the newest member of CBS‘s board of directors. Kissinger’s ties to the TV networks have always been close; no other “expert” is as ubiquitous on TV, commenting on what U.S. policy should be toward countries from Eastern Europe to the Middle East to Latin America.
In recent months, Kissinger has used his high media profile in a spirited defense of China. In a Washington Post/L.A. Times column (“The Caricature of Deng as a Tyrant Is Unfair”, 8/1/89), Kissinger argued against sanctions: “China remains too important for America’s national security to risk the relationship on the emotions of the moment.” He asserted: “No government in the world would have tolerated having the main square of its capital occupied for eight weeks by tens of thousands of demonstrators.”
Kissinger’s defense of China and other repressive governments has sometimes raised eyebrows. What it has not raised is tough questions from TV interviewers about Kissinger’s business ties to these same governments. In a column alluding to FAIR’s study that found Kissinger to be Nightline‘s most frequent guest, the Washington Post‘s Richard Cohen (8/29/89) sounded an urgent appeal: “Will someone please ask Henry Kissinger the ‘C’ question?” The “C” stands for conflict of interest.
When he’s not pontificating in the media about foreign affairs, he’s engaging in foreign financial affairs through his secretive consulting firm, Kissinger & Associates. The firm, representing some 30 multinational companies — including American Express, H.J. Heinz, ITT and Lockheed –earns profits by “opening doors” for investors in China, Latin America and elsewhere (New York Times, 4/30/89).
A Wall Street Journal article by John Fialka (“Mr. Kissinger Has Opinions on China — and Business Ties”, 9/15/89) reported that Kissinger also heads China Ventures, a company engaged in joint ventures with China’s state bank. As its brochure explains, China Ventures invests only in projects that “enjoy the unquestioned support of the People’s Republic of China.” The Journal article was unusual in exploring the private business interests behind U.S. foreign policy, not the media’s strong suit — even when, as in Kissinger’s case, they are rolled into one person.
In a letter to network TV news programs, FAIR urged that guest analysts be questioned about their financial links to the subjects they are discussing, and that such links be disclosed on the air: “Our society demands financial disclosure of politicians and government officials; shouldn’t we expect the news media to disclose the financial interests of their guest experts when such interests are related to the issues under discussion?”