For those of you concerned about your 401Ks, your college loans, your job: You can rest easy now. The altruistic General Motors Corporation has been looking out for us. And in case you aren’t aware of all the corporation has done for you, dear American, the Detroit Free Press has laid bare the heart-rending facts.

Paul Wong
John Honkala Too early in the sun

Last week, the paper ran a front-page feature, under the dubious headline “How GM Saved The Economy,” that breathlessly credited the corporation with, well, saving the economy after last year’s World Trade Center attacks.

Here is their explanation: After the towers came down – and along with them the sales of GM automobiles – the corporation’s finest filled themselves with caffeinated coffee and No-Doz, dug into their corporate-headquarter faux-holes and emerged a week later with a radical plan to get Americans consuming again. The company would offer its cars with zero-percent financing. Marketed under the slogan “Keep America Rolling,” (imagine the ravers’ delight) GM launched its campaign within a month of the attacks. This, of course, rejuvenated an ailing economy and sold barges and barges of cars.

Said Anthony Chan, chief economist for Bank One Investment Advisors, “I think everyone in Detroit should be proud about what Detroit did. I think automakers saved the economy from a deep recession.” (A “saved” economy apparently entails one where unemployment sits near six percent and our bush league president has gone and blown the entire surplus on helicopters and spy technology.)

The feature goes on to celebrate GM’s patriotism, its sense of duty and its benevolence, glossing over the uncomfortable angle that the corporation was simply trying to sell cars.

Which was in fact precisely the corporation’s intention. That and attempting to resurrect its tarnished image. But either way, it’s preposterous to believe that GM has somehow become the consummate American corporation, a progressive little darling with a deep concern for the economic health of the American people.

No, the real impetus for economic recovery (if that is indeed where we stand) is the millions of people who went to work in the last year, the millions of people who spent their money on cars. Money, by the way, that would have been spent regardless of GM’s bargain, a concept that the feature’s author, Jeffrey McCracken, conveniently ignores.

It’s no wonder that so many people are either confused or apathetic about the American political process. Blaming the media is an easy out, of course. It’s no secret that corporate interests control news and editorial content of big media, that a handful of corporations own most media outlets, etc., etc. But the sheer absurdity of the Free Press’ endorsement of GM is mind-boggling and worth, I think, noting. We are not, after all, that far removed from Enron, et al. and the collective recognition that our biggest corporations have been hoodwinking us in ways that would have made even J.P. Morgan blush.

So we are left again with a confusing line of information to process. All summer, corporations were bad. (Please see photos of CEOs in handcuffs.) Now they are good again. Don’t audit, laud it, or something like that.

Kidding aside, it was quite disheartening to read the GM story and see the colossal headline. Admittedly a bit on the feeble side of hard hitting, the media’s coverage of corporate scandals this past year had restored my belief in the crucial role that newspapers and television can have in the American political process. Big media can be an invaluable conduit for information. Used as it was, to uncover corruption and injustice, media can help narrow the divide between the average citizen and an oft-confusing, always overwhelming political process.

Yet, less than a year later, the critique of corporate America is already beginning to disappear. And eventually, by the way, so will GM’s zero-percent financing. GM will gradually bring interest rates back up to their pre-Sept. 11 levels and GM will go back to being GM, except that instead of being the company that is fighting California’s progressive new emissions laws, it will be the company that saved the U.S. economy.

Half a century ago, GM president Charles E. Wilson proclaimed, “What’s good for GM is good for America.” Today, the corporation no longer needs its executives to make inane boasts; it has its own cheerleaders, Jeffrey McCracken and the Detroit Free Press, to do it for them.

John Honkala can be reached at jhonkala@umich.edu.

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