“Fake news!” Top executives are copying Trump’s shouty communication strategy

Who’s pulling the strings?
Who’s pulling the strings?
Image: Reuters/Andrew Kelly
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For as long as there’s been media, politicians have decried its treatment of them. US president Donald Trump has taken it to a new level by branding any story or outlet he disagrees with as “fake news.” And an increasing number of executives in business and elsewhere have seized on his strategy of discrediting the media to deflect attention from their companies struggles. Among them:

Michael Johnson, CEO of Herbalife

Herbalife, a nutrition supplements company, has been under pressure from Bill Ackman, a hedge fund manager who has shorted the company’s stock. “There was all this news agitated by a short seller,” Johnson said at a conference last week after reporting better-than-expected quarterly earnings. “Fake news.”  While it’s true Ackman has sought media attention for his campaign against Herbalife, the company also agreed to a $200 million settlement  with the Federal Trade Commission, which accused it of running a pyramid scheme.

Eddie Lampert, CEO of Sears Holdings

Sears is an iconic American retailer founded in the 19th century, so naturally it’s decline and potential bankruptcy are being written about by the business press. It has posted a net loss in 22 of the last 24 quarters, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. Forbes calls it “the longest unofficial liquidation sale in history.”

That’s just not fair, Lampert told the Chicago Tribune on May 10 as he blamed the press. “Every time people use the word bankruptcy, somebody who reads that doesn’t get past that word. It makes it very unfair for us, and it’s a very uneven playing field for us.”

Philip Anschutz, CEO of AEG

Anschutz, who runs one of the world’s biggest concert and live events companies, contributed to Alliance Defending Freedom, according to the Washington Post (paywall), a conservative nonprofit organization that advocates for the rights of Christians to exempt themselves from anti-LGBTQ discrimination laws. When Anschutz was called out on his contributions by Uproxx in an article about Coachella, an AEG production, Anschutz went on the offensive.

“Recent claims published in the media that I am anti-LGBTQ are nothing more than fake news—it is all garbage,” he said in a statement to Rolling Stone in January. But Anschutz’s representative also said he stopped donating to the group.

Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA

FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, isn’t a company, but it’s leaders can behave like the most arrogant of CEOs. The organization is plagued by constant allegations and evidence of serious corruption. Infantino’s predecessor, Sepp Blatter, is serving a six-year suspension from the sport. But criticism of the organization and its decision not to retain its ethics watchdogs is “FIFA-bashing,” Infantino said this week at the organization’s annual meeting in Bahrain. “There are a lot of fake news and alternative facts about Fifa circulating.”

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