While I’m still grappling with Malcom Gladwell likening Ferando Vina’s HGH use to popping ibuprofen (not the worst analogy — if all players had fair and equal access to the ibuprofen), Dave Zirin opines that “before we collectively sanctify George Mitchell’s findings as holy writ, perhaps we should also consider the man behind it.” (link swiped from Repoz and Baseball Think Factory)
Mitchell’s sins are as lengthy as they are hidden. First, there is the senator’s drug of choice: tobacco, a substance that has tagged more toes than any steroid. In 1997, Maureen Dowd wrote in the New York Times that his law firm Verner, Lipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand “earned more than $10 million in fees in 1997 from the five largest tobacco companies.” The work has continued, with big tobacco paying top dollar to make sure they can survive the class-action lawsuit settlements that threaten to bankrupt their industry.
As John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University and executive director of the anti-tobacco group Action on Smoking and Health said to the Boston Globe, “Basically, the tobacco industry hired everybody who had any kind of entree or clout in Washington…. I can’t think of any reason George Mitchell would agree to [represent big tobacco], except one obvious one: Someone’s offering him a ton of money … That is the surprising thing: So much of the rest of Mitchell’s record is very good, upstanding, praiseworthy, above partisanship, but here it looks like he sold out like everybody else.”
Mitchell also has a taste for toxic waste. General Electric hired Mitchell to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from forcing them to clean the spew they’ve emptied into the Hudson River. Over the course of decades, GE dumped polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCBs into the Hudson with devastating results for the wildlife, environment and people of New York state. The Clinton and Bush administrations both endorsed an EPA plan to make GE pay $450 million in clean-up costs. GE’s response has been to spend millions on gold-plated lobbyists like Mitchell to hold them off.
But Mitchell does more than service tobacco and toxic waste barons. He has also worked for the chocolate industry. It sounds innocent enough. But Mitchell was hired to stop Congress from labeling candy that may have been picked by child or slave labor. The reports of abuse, confirmed by the Ivory Coast government, were so harrowing that Congress appeared ready to act. The Chocolate Manufacturers of America saw a PR nightmare and called Mitchell. As Susan Smith of the CMA said, “What better person to give us advice on how to bring different parties together and deal with cross-country issues and global issues?”
John Aloysius Farrell, in an analysis of Mitchell’s chocolate child slave-labor advocacy, wrote in the Globe, “What the manufacturers paid for was the chance to wrap themselves and their deal in the aura of Mitchell’s reputation…. Like the new owners of the Boston Red Sox (accused of being rapacious out-of-towners), or the embattled directors of the American Red Cross (said to have diverted funds for Sept. 11 victims to pad its bureaucracy), or the scandal-dogged members of the International Olympic Committee (found to be accepting favors from solicitous host cities), or Bill Clinton’s legal defense team (well, you know), the chocolate industry paid a share of public penance by signing up Mitchell and leasing his rectitude.”
We can now add to that list “Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.”