Writer Tory Newmyer (@torynewmyer) is filling in for Geoff Colvin this week.
There’s been no shortage of hyperbole this election season about all the ways typically unassailable institutions — blue-chip companies, the court system, international alliances — are fleecing the American people or otherwise wiring outcomes against them in favor of an entrenched super-elite. Donald Trump has gotten so loose with the charge he’s now making it prospectively. Last week, the Republican nominee earned bipartisan opprobrium for declaring that the general election itself will be “rigged,” in what looked like an attempt at a face-saving hedge in a race that’s been slipping away from him.
It’s hardly the first time in American history a candidate has sought to exploit wariness of the powerful for advantage in a campaign. Here’s the historian Richard Hofstadter, writing in 1964: “Today this fact is most evident on the extreme right wing, which has shown, particularly in the Goldwater movement, how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. Behind such movements there is a style of mind, not always right-wing in its affiliations, that has a long and varied history. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.” Tracing the impulse back to the country’s founding, Hofstadter notes that “it is admittedly impossible to settle the merits of an argument because we think we hear in its presentation the characteristic paranoid accents.” Conspiracy theories, that is, often proceed from a kernel of truth.
And for those convinced every corner of the governing class in Washington is on the take from corporate interests, the front page of the New York Times today offers some fresh evidence. An investigation into Washington think tanks — “universities without students,” as they sometimes call themselves — details how these non-profit research centers are increasingly behaving like lobbying partners for their corporate sponsors. The story dwells on the Brookings Institution, arguably the most prestigious think tank in the world. Drawing on a trove of internal documents, the Times lays out the scholarship and meetings with government officials that the organization set up for deep-pocketed interests including Lennar, the home-building company, JPMorgan Chase, K.K.R., and Hitachi, the Japanese conglomerate. The picture in sum, of an august institution renting its name and facilitating contacts with policymakers, is not pretty. It’s made uglier by the fact that the corporate contributions are tax deductible, meaning taxpayers have been subsidizing this activity. Brookings is already out with a rebuttal that says the piece “fundamentally misrepresents our mission and distorts how we operate.” But this isn’t the first time the paper has documented how outside money shapes think tank work — and it’s long been one of the worst-kept secrets in Washington.
Does it matter? It may be hard to imagine this story breaking directly through on the presidential campaign trail. Yet we’ve seen this summer what happens when an angry electorate withdraws their faith from leading policy brains. In June, then-British justice secretary Michael Gove dismissed the consensus among economists that Brexit would be a disaster by declaring, now famously, “I think the people in this country have had enough of experts.” The lure of multimillion-dollar sponsorships is no doubt hard for think tanks to resist. It may be even harder to regain credibility once its squandered.
— And, on another note, be sure to check out Fortune Unfiltered, our new podcast, for an exclusive interview with GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving. A former skater turned tech exec, he’s trying to remake the web hosting company’s image among women; that’s no small feat, since GoDaddy built its name with provocative ads. It’s an interesting listen into how a CEO works to redefine a company.
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What We’re Reading Today
Delta grounds flights
Ed Bastian‘s company took the step of grounding flights around the world this morning after an outage hit the airline’s computer system. It’s unclear what caused the outage, but the passengers stranded due to grounded flights is in the tens of thousands, according to estimates. The response by Delta will be one of the first big tests for Bastian, who ascended to CEO in May. NBC News
Japan’s emperor hints at retiring
In an address to all of Japan, Emperor Akihito indicated very clearly that he wanted to step down from the throne, due to his age. The 82-year old can’t explicitly say he will step down, since it’s considered a political issue and he’s barred from commenting on politics. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government would consider options, since Japanese law urge emperors to serve until death. BBC
Turkey holds mass rally in aftermath of coup
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan summoned Turkish people for a mass gathering in order to show strength following the attempted coup last month. It’s also to show Western nations that Turkey is united under Erdogan, who may have increased his standing in the country following the failed coup. Fortune
Building a Better Leader
A new survey highlights that the UK and European states, particularly Ireland, will be hard hit by the vote for Britain to leave the European Union. But businesses in the United States won’t feel much impact, nor will the Middle East or Russia. Reuters
You should never be too busy to engage with employees
As CEO, doing things like scheduling time for walks with employees, greeting them in the morning or plan regular check-ins will ensure you remain connected with your team. Fortune
To make a good first impression…
…avoid distractions, by ensuring your phone is off, you’re not checking email or thinking about another part of your job. It allows you to focus on the person you’re meeting with, then actively listen to them. Fast Company
Amazon Japan raided by authorities
Japan’s Fair Trade Commission conducted the search over concerns Amazon Japan pressured local retailers to lower prices of their products for Amazon more than other online retailers. It’s not the first time Jeff Bezos‘s company practices have come under the scrutiny of regulators; Germany opened an investigation last year into whether publishers had to accept unfair conditions to market audiobooks on Amazon. It’s unclear if the Japanese investigation will move forward. Reuters
Olympic opening ceremony viewers decline
Early results are in for NBC (owned by Brian Roberts‘s Comcast) from the Rio Olympic’s opening ceremony on Friday, and it was a considerable decline from four years ago. With 26.5 million viewers, NBC saw a 35% drop-off from the record numbers that watched the London Games begin. It’s the lowest rated opening since 2004, but NBC believes the numbers could improve once DVR and online viewers are included. WSJ
Tesla’s Autopilot feature saves life
A Tesla Model X owner says that he used the Tesla Autopilot feature to drive him 20 miles on the highway after suffering what he later learned was a pulmonary embolism. The driver steered the car once it was ready to exit the highway. It highlights the potential of autonomous offerings, even as Elon Musk‘s company faces backlash for a death that occurred while the driver used the feature. Fortune
Up or Out
Chris Urmson, CTO of Google’s self-driving car project, has stepped away from the company. CNNMoney
Fortune Reads and Videos
Older workers embrace new technology
A recent survey found that workers over 55 use more forms of technology while working than their 18-34 year-old counterparts. Fortune
More than equal pay…
…women want an equal way for promotions to be doled out, according to a new survey. Fortune
China erupts over Olympic swimmer allegations
Australia’s Mack Horton called Chinese swimmer Sun Yang a “drug cheat,” leading to a massive social media backlash against Australia. China’s state run media jumped into the fray today. Fortune
Hacker shows off Android app that can create…
…fake boarding passes. The hacker has used the fake airline passes to get into luxury lounges and says someone could use it to bypass no-fly lists. Fortune
Quote of the Day
“My promise to her was, I was going to do everything I could in my power, in my technology area, my chosen field, to do as much as I could to forward her work…It just turns out that GoDaddy was a place where I could do a lot of that.” — GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving, discussing a promise he made to his late sister, Lori, who was a leading expert in eating disorders and how media can play a role on body image. Fortune