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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Citi Chief Stiffs KELO's Kennecke

I've ridden KELO rather hard the last couple months for occasionally seeming to favor Senator John Thune (by the way, they did re-admit my post, following the requested revision), big-town convenience over small-town basic services, wealthy big-name candidates, Big Stone II, and Senator Thune (again!). Such seeming servility to power gets my goat. Where are the hard questions, the pricking of conscience good journalists should do?

I note with some small renewed sense of journalistic solidarity that even the corporate-owned professionals at KELO will dare to question the powers that be... and get the cold shoulder from those powers for such audacity.

Angela Kennecke recounts in a KELO blog post (and this was last Monday—I regret not finding it sooner!) her unsuccessful attempt to get Citi CEO Vikram Pandit to answer a few questions:

...I was promised by the public relations people who were handling Pandit’s visit to Sioux Falls that I would have a chance to talk to him before or after the event. But once I arrived, I was told by his assistants there was no time. I asked if I could just ask a question or two and they wanted to know what those questions would be about. I told them I wanted to know about student loan jobs, the current controversy and government action over top executive pay, as well as Citibank’s third quarter losses and how the bank would repay the government $45 billion in taxpayer money it owes from the TARP. At the end of the roundtable Pandit was taking part in, his assistant informed me I couldn’t ask the question about executive pay. I said OK just so I could get any questions in at all. It wasn’t looking good. Then he turned around and told me I couldn’t ask any questions at all. However, I tried to get one question in and walked up to Pandit to ask about the student loan jobs at Citibank and he turned away from me and refused to answer anything at all [Angela Kennecke, "Since You Own a Share of Citigroup, Do You Deserve Answers?" KELOLand.com, 2009.10.26].

Ouch! Stone cold shoulder! Not cool.

Kennecke doesn't take it personally—she and other reporters have been treated worse by better. But she nails better than I can the fundamental problem with CEO Pandit's arrogance:

...the problem I have with Citigroup’s and Pandit’s actions today is that this is no longer a “private” company. You, the taxpayers, own a third of Citigroup Inc. And while they were taking your money and losing $3.2 billion in the third quarter, the top 21 Citigroup executives were taking $390.2 million in pay [Kennecke, 2009.10.26].

Good call, Ms. Kennecke. And she says it well: trying to get answers to such questions for all of us citizens from the powers that be is exactly her job. Keep at it!

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