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By Yasha Levine

This just in: Bank of America announced today that it had hired star New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell to frontline in its cross-country banking propaganda tour.

According to the press release, BofA’s Bankapalooza rolled through Los Angeles, Dallas and D.C., and was held for the benefit of America’s small business owners, giving them an opportunity to have a bit of fun while learning about the important role that massively centralized financial institutions play in helping small businesses succeed. And central to that effort was Malcolm Gladwell himself:

Taking another step in its ongoing effort to encourage small business growth, Bank of America today announced it has conducted a series of events with Malcolm Gladwell to deliver quality education and actionable advice to small business owners in various markets throughout the country. … In each market, Gladwell’s presentation was preceded by a panel discussion on relationship capital, a core component of business success, moderated by a Bank of America Small Business regional leader…

Wonder if anyone mentioned the fact that small business lending by big banks continues to fall (contracting by nearly 10% over the past year alone), and asked what small businessmen could do to buck the trend? Should they write better business plans? Wear more expensive suits? Maybe take up tennis? Or grow a big fro like Gladwell?

It’s not clear how much Gladwell got for the gig, but if previous engagements (like the $80,000 he made speaking to a bunch of dentists) are any indication, it was a fuckload of money—taxpayer-subsidized money. Remember, BofA has taken in more than $300 billion in bailout cash and guarantees, and continues to profit from the implicit guarantees on everything that bank pukes out.

Malcolm Gladwell’s willingness to front for a criminal, predatory banking cartel isn’t very surprising. After all, this is the same Malcolm Gladwell who shilled for the tobacco industry.

As I revealed last summer, Malcolm Gladwell has been churning out a continuous stream of pro-tobacco propaganda since the early 1990s. He even appears on an internal tobacco industry roster of reliable “third-party” shills who could be counted on to support tobacco industry positions. Over the years Gladwell has argued that smoking bans will bankrupt Social Security and Medicare, and he absolved tobacco companies for peddling nicotine to kiddies so that they’d get hooked on cigarettes early in life. Because in Gladwell’s world, teen smoking isn’t caused by tobacco advertising specifically targeting children; it’s caused by “cool people.”

So if you’re shocked at Gladwell shilling for BofA, here’s a reminder of what he did for tobacco:

Malcolm Gladwell has described himself as a “conversation starter” who likes to “ask questions” and “follow-up” with more questions. Well, here’s a question for Malcolm Gladwell: When you wrote all those pro-tobacco articles and tobacco industry executives sang your praises, were they paying you to be their shill? Or did you just volunteer to write tobacco-friendly propaganda, out of a sincere belief in the righteousness of their cause?

Most people would never imagine or suspect that Malcolm Gladwell, a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine and bestselling author beloved by the NPR crowd, would have ever been a crooked propagandist for big tobacco. And neither did I, at least not until I happened to stumble across an article Gladwell wrote in 1990, while he was working for theWashington Post. Headlined “Anti-Smoking Efforts May Carry High Price, Studies Say,” it was such obvious and shameless pro-tobacco propaganda that I couldn’t believe someone of Gladwell’s stature put his name to it–or that he hadn’t been ashamed enough to scrub it from the WaPo’s archives.

I was so intrigued by that article and what it might say about one of the most influential corporate writers of our time that I decided spend the past few days combing through Gladwell’s published work from the 90′s and early 00′s, and what I found frankly shocked me: one shameless pro-tobacco article or piece of propaganda after another.

Let’s start with the first article that caught my attention:

Wednesday, February 28, 1990
Anti-Smoking Efforts May Carry High Price, Studies Say
By Malcolm Gladwell
Washington Post

WASHINGTON – If the campaign to curb tobacco use is successful in reducing the number of Americans who smoke, it could place a serious strain on the nation’s Social Security and Medicare programs, according to recent economic studies.

That conclusion contradicts the widely reported comments from Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, who in kicking off his campaign for a tobacco-free America last week estimated that an end to smoking could save $52 billion every year in lower health-care costs and increased productivity.

But according to many health economists, Sullivan failed to account for the fact that even though smokers run up higher medical bills, they die relatively young. That means that – on average – they collect only a fraction of the money they pay into Social Security during their working lives. In effect, they subsidize the pensions of nonsmokers.

Because they die prematurely, smokers may also end up with medical bills no larger than those of nonsmokers, who on average have four to five more years of life to run up hospital charges.

None of the economists who studied the issue say their conclusions should discourage Sullivan’s anti-tobacco campaign, which they see as important in combating one of the nation’s gravest health problems. But their results suggest that the war on tobacco is more appropriately cast as a public-health crusade than as an attempt to save money.

They also suggest that as Congress and the White House step up their fight against tobacco, they should fortify institutions that are most likely to bear the social consequences: Social Security and Medicare.

Little is known about whether smoking costs society more than it saves. One recent, controversial study, by University of Michigan economist Willard Manning, weighed the smoking-related expense of higher medical costs, life insurance, fires and lives lost to “passive smoke” against the higher taxes tobacco users pay and their lower costs in retirement pensions and nursing-home care. It found the two sides were roughly equal.

But even if the overall balance of costs and benefits of smoking is difficult to determine, it is clear that an end to smoking will produce an enormous increase in the financial obligations of the federal government.

That’s right, folks. According to Malcolm Gladwell, circa-1990, smoking was the only thing keeping Social Security and Medicare from going totally bankrupt. Ha! And you thought tobacco companies were evil! They’re the best friends our grandparents ever had!

Gladwell’s sleazy pro-tobacco masterpiece, which didn’t even pretend to offer a counter viewpoint to at least give the appearance of journalistic objectivity, was essentially a rehashed press release based on a 1987 pro-tobacco study called “The Social Security Costs of Smoking,” produced by the National Bureau of Economic Research, an organization funded by the biggest names in rightwing propaganda funding, including the John M. Olin Foundation, Scaife Foundations and Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.



Want to know more? Read Yasha Levine’s investigation into the life of Harry Koch, the man who spawned the two most powerful oligarchs of our time: The Birth of the Koch Clan: It All Started In a Little Texas Town Called Quanah

Yasha Levine is an editor of The eXiled. You can reach him at levine [at]


Add your own

  • 1. Kevin  |  November 16th, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    DAMNIT!! Now I have to be totally pissed off about another piece of shit that needs to burn in Hell!!

  • 2. CensusLouie  |  November 16th, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    Ha ha, smoking bans will bankrupt social security.

    Where was this guy to push universal healthcare “death panels” using the same logic?

  • 3. helplesscase  |  November 16th, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    What’s his next career move? Talking about the benefits of living on a warmer planet?

  • 4. Trevor  |  November 17th, 2011 at 5:56 am

    I can understand pimping for some of the too-big-to-fail eldritch abominations like Wells Fargo or JP Morgan. They’ve got plenty of money to throw around and will continue to do so until they implode in another few years… but Bank of America? They’re in such a public relations mess attaching your name to them is like saying “I like to stick it in little boys!” Although, considering all the support for that NAMBLA guy at Penn State, maybe being absolutely shameless is considered a virtue these days…

  • 5. radii  |  November 17th, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    yikes – someone that ugly is hired to front for a product … in person?

  • 6. Cernunnos  |  November 18th, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    @ Trevor

    Let me just preface this saying that I don’t follow football and I hate sports fandom, so I’m not speaking as a supporter of Joe Paterno, but….

    The support is for the “legendary” head coach Joe Paterno who got fired over the scandal. The “NAMBLA guy” is Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach who used his charity organization to groom victims and used Penn State facilities to molest and rape them.

    The students are just a bunch of whiny brats who are so blinded by the religion of football fandom that they can’t seem to figure out why it’s justified to fire their precious “JoePa”, an 84-year-old husk of a man who was close to retiring anyway.

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