Warning to US Journalists: Do NOT Ask Difficult Questions of Powerful CEOs

Jon Queally

Labor journalist Mike Elk on Thursday attended a Capitol Hill conference where he performed the unspeakable act of behaving like a journalist.  During the Q&A portion of a panel discussion, Elk rose to ask a question of Honeywell CEO David Cote, but as Congressional staffers nearby realized that his question wasn't a soft-ball about how a young entrepreneur might climb to the heights of corporate America, but a serious question regarding "labor practices and the recent release of radioactive UF6 gas" at a Honeywell uranium facility in Metropolis, Illinois," the microphone was ripped from Elk's hands and his questioning cut off.

So much for being a credentialed journalist trying to ask a CEO an uncomfortable question in public.

"I think this whole event of Hill aides literally physically grabbing a credentialed reporter in the basement of the US Capitol Building, a public building, says a lot about how these politicians won't tolerate being questioned by the press."
- Mike Elk, labor journalist for In These Times magazine

Subsequently when he tried to follow up with Honeywell's Cote in the hallway, as Elk describes, Honeywell's external communication manager Nick Ferris barricaded him in a side room for several minutes and would not let him leave. Ferris then had the Capitol Police detain Elk for several more minutes, but the police released Elk after he pointed out that it is not a crime for a journalist to follow a CEO down a hallway. "Indeed," writes Elk in an email describing the episode, "Capitol Police asked me if I wanted to press charges against Ferris for false imprisonment for barricading me in the room." Elk declined. 

Ironically, or perhaps not, President Obama has a scheduled speech today at Honeywell's corporate headquarters in Minnesota.  Given the events of yesterday, Elk wondered if it wouldn't be appropriate for some journalist -- given the opportunity -- to ask Obama why Honeywell, a top corporate donor to the Democratic Party, has been able to bust unions with such impunity. Perhaps in the President's presence, the journalist would receive a higher level of respect, if not an adequate answer.

"I think this whole event of Hill aides literally physically grabbing a credentialed reporter in the basement of the US Capitol Building, a public building, says a lot about how these politicians won't tolerate being questioned by the press," Elk said.

(You can see Elk's reporting on the relationship between Honeywell and the Dept. of Energyhere).

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The Republic Report's Lee Fang reports on the incident and provides video:


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Republic Report attended a conference for “entrepreneurs” and small businesses today on Capitol Hill hosted by Congressman Tim Scott (R-SC). Although it was advertised as a lively discussion about economic policy, we witnessed staffers for Scott violently grabbing the mic from the only reporter who asked a critical question during the forum.

Mike Elk, a journalist for In These Times magazine, was called on during the question and answer portion of a morning panel to ask David Cote, the CEO of Honeywell, about his efforts to bust labor unions at a Honeywell-owned uranium plant. Elk asked Cote, who earlier in the event boasted about his company’s profit margins, about his labor practices and the recent news that a poorly trained worker used to replaced Honeywell’s organized workforce had allowed a release of radioactive gas. But before he could finish his question, a man in a suit working for the event repeatedly grabbed the microphone away from Elk. Watch the video here:

The confrontation was a dramatic example of how powerful elites can cocoon themselves away from regular people, even critical press. The room this morning was filled with lobbyists and lawyers, rather than regular small business owners. For much of the conference, Sean O’Hollaren, Honeywell’s chief lobbyist, circled the event, shaking hands with congressmen and greeting attendees. Unlike Elk, who was physically pushed and threatened outside the event after asking his question, the lobbyists enjoyed comfortable access to the CEOs and elites in the room.

Last year, Honeywell was identified as one of the biggest recipients of special tax deals from the government. The company actually spends more on lobbying than it pays in corporate taxes. This preferential treatment, for a company that makes billions in profits, is due in large part to Honeywell’s close relationship with members of Congress.

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