Jan 1 1991

Capitalist Tool, PR Executive’s Dream

Forbes magazine seems to be taking its slogan–“capitalist tool”–a bit too literally.

In 1989 (6/26/89), Forbes printed a full-page house ad in its pages, soliciting insurance company advertising for a special section: “Clearly there has never been a time when it has been more critical for the insurance industry to tell its story…. Be part of that story. Advertise your company’s services in ‘Insurers Outnumbered,’ appearing in the Oct.16, 1989 issue of Forbes.” That issue of Forbes happened to feature a cover story attacking personal injury lawyers for winning money from the “outnumbered” insurance companies.

The special section marked the beginning of an aggressive campaign of editorial support for insurers, culminating in another cover story that took on a major insurance industry foe: Ralph Nader. The piece (9/17/90) alleged that Nader was in the center of a “web of interests” consisting of a couple dozen public interest groups, some of which have only the most tenuous connection to Nader.

One of the groups said to be in Nader’s “gravitational field” is the Fund for Investigative Journalism. “I’ve never dealt with Nader,” Fund chair Frank Greve told Extra!. “I’ve felt the gravitational pull of Venus more than I’ve felt Nader’s.”

Forbes‘ main criticism of Nader was that he accepts money from trial lawyers, perhaps prejudicing him against those outnumbered insurance companies. By the magazine’s own figures, a little more than 1 percent of the income of the Nader “empire” comes from lawyers; by contrast, 7 percent of Forbes‘ advertising comes from insurance companies (Washington Post, 9/11/90).

Forbes also charges Naderites with espousing “left-wing looneyism.” The only example it could produce: opposition to a capital gains tax cut. The magazine attempts to “expose” Ralph Nader’s affluent lifestyle by accusing him of living in his sister’s townhouse. While Nader affirms that he lives in his own apartment, moving in with one’s sibling is not normally thought of as a sign of conspicuous consumption.

In a syndicated column written before the Forbes attack appeared (9/5/90), Nader pointed out that the magazine’s support for the insurance industry has been quite profitable. In the 24 issues starting with the October 16, 1989 special edition on “outnumbered” insurance firms, insurance ads accounted for at least $6.2 million in revenues, a jump of 30 percent over the previous 24 issues. “It’s a magazine that believes it can sell the Forbes family name to the highest bidder,” Nader told Extra!.