Robert Reich: How To Make $50 Million A Year While Your Corporation Goes Down The Tubes – OpEd

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A word about David Zaslav — CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery (owner of CNN) — who raked in $49.7 million in compensation last year. That was 26 percent more than he earned the year before, according to a proxy statement filed recently with the Securities and Exchange Commission. 

This may seem like a lot of money, and it is. It’s more than three times the $15.6 million median pay of CEOs of the 500 largest corporations in America.

Zaslav’s pay package is especially rich (in all senses of the word) considering that Warner Bros. Discovery is hemorrhaging red ink. 

Its losses last year totaled $3 billion, and revenue plunged 4 percent from 2022, largely because of loss-leader CNN. Its shares of stock have lately traded at about $8, down from $24 two years ago. 

Not surprisingly, shareholders have not been exactly enthusiastic about Zaslav’s pay package, nor his oversight over the sprawling and sinking entertainment company. In a non-binding “say on pay” vote, just 50.8 percent of shareholders approved the $39.3 million Zaslav was paid in 2022, when the corporation lost $7 billion. (Approval of anything less than 70 percent is deemed “low support” by the corporate governance firm ISS.)

Talk about socialism for the rich. 

Pay packages like Zaslav’s — handed out at the same time that entertainment corporations have been walloped by the shift from traditional television to streaming — played a major role in the strikes that roiled the industry last year. “They plead poverty, that they’re losing money left and right when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs,” Fran Drescher, president of the actors’ union, said at a July rally. “It is disgusting.” 

Zaslav’s CNN did even worse. Zaslav tried to shift CNN from anti-Trump confrontation toward an imaginary political “center.” The effort was doomed from the start because there is no legitimate political center between democracy and Trump’s lie-driven fascism. 

Zaslav came along at a time of establishment confusion over whether the old political center would return after Trump. America’s business establishment hoped it would. But that proved a pipe dream. The division between authoritarianism and democracy is now too deep. If anyone had any doubts, CNN’s disastrous Trump town hall should have erased them. 

What seems to have confused Zaslav was the difference between being politically partisan, and standing up against authoritarian demagogues. He assumed that holding Trump accountable for what he did (and continues to do) was inconsistent with so-called “balanced journalism.” 

Wrong. It is not partisan to stand up for decency and democracy. That’s where CNN’s audience wanted — and presumably still wants — CNN to be.

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at robertreich.substack.com. Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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