One Reason We Don’t Hear about Income Inequality: Media Execs Among the Richest

David Cay Johnston has a must-read piece on what the most recent payroll tax data shows about growing income inequality.  He shows that total wages have fallen 5% since 2007, largely because so many fewer people are making any income.

Every 34th wage earner in America in 2008 went all of 2009 without earning a single dollar, new data from the Social Security Administration show. Total wages, median wages, and average wages all declined, but at the very top, salaries grew more than fivefold.


Measured in 2009 dollars, total wages fell to just above $5.9 trillion, down $215 billion from the previous year. Compared with 2007, when the economy peaked, total wages were down $313 billion or 5 percent in real terms.

The number of Americans with any wages in 2009 fell by more than 4.5 million compared with the previous year. Because the population grew by about 1 percent, the number of idle hands and minds grew by 6 million.

He also notes how the very rich are getting very richer.

The number of Americans making $50 million or more, the top income category in the data, fell from 131 in 2008 to 74 last year. But that’s only part of the story.

The average wage in this top category increased from $91.2 million in 2008 to an astonishing $518.8 million in 2009. That’s nearly $10 million in weekly pay!


In the Great Recession year of 2009 (officially just the first half of the year), the average pay of the very highest-income Americans was more than five times their average wages and bonuses in 2008. And even though their numbers shrank by 43 percent, this group’s total compensation was 3.2 times larger in 2009 than in 2008, accounting for 0.6 percent of all pay. These 74 people made as much as the 19 million lowest-paid people in America, who constitute one in every eight workers.

At the same time, he notes that this story–which should have been told after the numbers were released on October 15–went unmentioned.

Not a single news organization reported this data when it was released October 15, searches of Google and the Nexis databases show. Nor did any blog, so the citizen journalists and professional economists did no better than the newsroom pros in reporting this basic information about our economy.

Now, Johnston doesn’t provide a list of who those 74 people are that make as much as the 19 million lowest paid Americans. But for shits and giggles, I wanted to see who Fortune–which loves to idolize these people–lists. Mind you, they’re clearly measuring different things, because Fortune’s numbers are smaller than the payroll tax numbers (presumably, this excludes a bunch of executives of privately held companies). But take a look at what industries are dominating Fortune’s best-paid men, plus the two women whose salaries match those of the men in the top 25.

  1. Greg Maffei, Liberty Media, $87.5 million
  2. Lawrence Ellison, Oracle, $70.1 million
  3. Fred Hassan, Merck, $49.7 million
  4. Carol Bartz, Yahoo, $47.2 million
  5. Mario Gabelli, GAMCO Investors, 43.6 million
  6. Mel Karmazin, Sirius, $43.5 million
  7. Leslie Moonves, CBS, $43 million
  8. Safra Catz, Oracle, $36.4 million
  9. Michael Jeffries, Abercrombie & Fitch, $36.3 million
  10. Robert Bertolini, Merck, $35.1, million
  11. Marc Casper, Thermo Fisher Scientific, 34.1 million
  12. Philippe Dauman, Viacom, $34.0 million
  13. John Hammergren, McKesson, $33.9 million
  14. J. Raymond Elliott, Boston Scientific, $33.4 million
  15. Ray Irani, Occidental Petroleum, $31.4 million
  16. Stephen Burke, Comcast, $31 million
  17. Charles Phillip Jr., Oracle, $30.1 million
  18. Glen Senk, Urban Outfitters, $29.9 million
  19. Thomas Montag, Bank of America, $29.9 million
  20. Dennis Strigl, Verizon, $29.0
  21. Thomas Kurian, Oracle, $28.5 million
  22. Ralph Lauren, Polo Ralph Lauren, $27.7 million
  23. Thomas E. Dooley, Viacom, $27.0 million
  24. Thomas M. Rutledge, Cablevision, $26.0 million
  25. Raymond Plank, Apache, $25.8 million
  26. Daniel H. Mudd, Fortress Investment Group, $25.7 million
  27. Timothy Armstrong, AOL, $25.6 million

Now, obviously, this is not an apples to apples comparison to the 74 richest people Johnston is talking about. Indeed, it’s not even clear how many of these, calculated using payroll tax data, would be in Johnston’s group; perhaps only Maffei and Ellison would be (Fortune’s list of top CEO compensation is another list, though only 8 of them make more than Johnston’s $50 million threshold; that list is dominated much more by energy and medical companies). So these are really a snapshot of the paupers among the richest of the rich.

But it provides a list of who the top paid executives in public companies were in 2009.

And 10 of the 27 top paid executives, according to Fortune, were in media.

There’s a reason why no one is telling the story of America’s increasing income inequality. That’s because the people telling the story work for some of the people most benefiting from it.

  1. egregious says:

    There’s a reason why no one is telling the story of America’s increasing income inequality. That’s because the people telling the story work for some of the people most benefiting from it.


  2. scribe says:

    Note also that Mr. Mudd, number 26 on your list, is the guy who was behind setting in motion the housing bubble and is now one of the people profitting most from the foreclosures, too. We’ve talked about him before.

  3. Teddy Partridge says:

    Of course, the talking heads on our teevee machine, while not at CEO levels, also make millions yearly. They get squeamish talking about income inequality, too. The only people I think are honest about how they as rich people should be taxed are Warren Buffett, Bill Gates Sr and Bill Clinton. Everyone else on teevee acts like they are discussing this in a vacuum.

    Hey, Andrea Mitchell Greenspan (who should be barred from ALL economic and business reporting, her husband helped cause this mess!) — we know you’re up in the brackets you’re talking about, stop trying to act like you’re not!

      • JamesJoyce says:

        The appearance of impropriety? At least her husband is not a member of the SCOTUS. Justice Thomas fails to recuse himself from a case which benefits corporations, and his wife, while plowing the average citizens headfirst, into the soil.

        “The New York Times finally takes notice. At issue: could Thomas’ objectivity on the court be compromised by his wife’s activism?”

        What a way to frame the issue? How about this! Justice Thomas’s actions compromise the rule of law. Fuck the NYT!!!!!!!!!!

  4. onitgoes says:

    Good post and thanks for the info. My immediate reaction upon reading the title was: “No sh*t.” That said, I doubt that many citizens give much of a thought to the fact that almost everyone out telling us serfs to “suck it up” and “we can’t help it” and “the recession will end some day” and other such crap is sh*t being peddled to you by the world of the wealthy – from the tippy-top of the .0001% zillionaires on down thru to the upper 4%, who “only” make millions per year. Go figure.

    • emptywheel says:

      It’d be great to introduce a system such that every time someone had really shitty service from Comcast, they could go to a site to calculate how much more than they make COO Stephen Burke makes.

      It’d come back with a text message that says,

      The guy in charge of operations for the sucky company that just made you lose a half day without fixing your problem makes 775 times as much as you do.

      • onitgoes says:

        That would be so excellent. If only… I’ve had conversations over the years with a variety of conservatives about corporate exec compensation and the increasing disparity between what those at the top “rip off” from the corporations v. what the serfs make. It’s no wonder that service is appalling crummy most of the time anymore. Every corporate entity is in a race to downsize their operations – to enure to the benefit of those at the top – and downgrade their staffers, so that they’re all lowly paid, untrained individuals with no real idea of WTF they’re doing.

        Citizens love to complain about the lack of customer service, but most never connect the dots between what “average workers” make v. what those at the top are “ripping off” for their personal enhancement.

    • PJEvans says:

      My first reaction was that none of those 27 business executives is worth that much money.
      I don’t think any of them should get more than 5 million a year. Maximum. (Same goes for athletes and entertainers, IMO.)

  5. JamesJoyce says:

    Educating the public concerning the ways they are “scammed” is not in the self interest media execs, who rely on the advertising dollars of corporations seeking to gain market share. To demonstrate how “gamed” America is understand the following. We pay cable companies so they can advertise to US. Yes, you pay a fee, to be brainwashed? Kierkegaard spoke of men in “little black boxes,” conditioning the masses. I don’t think he thought people would be so incline to pay to be brainwashed?

    • gnomedigest says:

      I think we should start to reconsider if some of these major “news” outlets are even business models anymore.

      The only times I watch MSNBC primetime now are through feeds online. So I am not sure what cable or satellite system I am getting them through. However, during MSNBC’s primetime (7-10 at least) inbetween the segments of their shows, they only show commercials of themselves. So during presumably their most valuable add time, instead of selling adds, they just show commercials for Morning Joe, Hardball, Countdown, Rachel Maddow Show, and their weekend lockup stuff. Between each segment, thats all I get in a loop.

      Thats not a business model. That seems more like a propoganda model. I’m curious if other folks actually get real commercials.

      • onitgoes says:

        Just an fyi that where I live in CA, although MSNBC’s evening line up does include a LOT of ads for it’s own programming, there ARE “regular” commercial ads of various sorts from various types of businesses. I would estimate that the commercial ads in my area far outnumber the very brief ads for the other MSNBC shows. Of course, right now, there is also a ton of political ads.

        Not sure what’s going on where you live, but I’ve seen you mention this before. hard to say waht the deal is.

      • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

        From the main post:

        And 10 of the 27 top paid executives, according to Fortune, were in media.

        Ding! But note what is happening to community newspapers while the cable, Internet-related, and news execs make a killing. I don’t see that as a sane economic model.

        From gnomedigest:

        So during presumably their most valuable add time, instead of selling adds, they just show commercials for Morning Joe, Hardball, Countdown, Rachel Maddow Show, and their weekend lockup stuff. Between each segment, thats all I get in a loop.

        Thats not a business model. That seems more like a propoganda model. I’m curious if other folks actually get real commercials.

        I get ads — boy, howdy, do I get ads!

        And currently (I’m in Pugetopolis), Dino Rossi — who is trying to beat Wa Dem Sen Patty Murray — is all over my video feeds, NakedCapitalism and any other blog that I seem to click on. (Gack!!) Even the is serving up Dino Rossi’s ads right now… (I only hope the Guardian makes a fair chunk of change from Rossi; that’s the only silver lining that I see.)

        But at MSNBC, I get ads for dish soaps, autos, shaving creams, shampoos, you-name-it.

        Currently, the only show that I make sure to watch consistently is Dylan Ratigan’s. I’m willing to sit through just about any ad crap to watch him discuss the intersection of politics and economics. If they want to collect web stats from my clicking on Ratigan’s show, so be it. But the last few days, when I watch Ratigan’s show I am served up adds against a Washington State ballot initiative trying to turn back a new tax on sodas and crap food. If the soda manufacturer’s want to subside my Ratigan watching, so be it. I hope MSNBC makes a killing (and I hope the initiative is soundly defeated.)

  6. donbacon says:

    To endorse what James Joyce wrote:

    There are a lot of stories that don’t get told because these people are not in the story-telling business they are in the advertising business, which depends mostly upon entertainment.

  7. mzchief says:

    I don’t spend a direct cent on those folks or their businesses. I recently had it drop in my lap about how IBM was a prime for making subs for the US government in the 1980s (wow– that’s one I did not know). Isn’t it absolutely wonderful how every cent of our tax dollars goes to the DoD which lavishes profit-sharing opportunities on these corporations and their executives one way or the other? Even the Church lady would say, “Well isn’t that special.”

  8. masaccio says:

    Johnson only links to the data in the comment section. Here is the data link:

    The page is dated today, which makes me wonder why Johnson says it has been available since Oct. 15. This does not include people whose income is from capital, only wages and salaries. I wonder how we could adjust it to guess at the big income picture.

    • David Cay Johnston says:

      In re your post on my column:

      The data were posted at 8:30 AM on Oct 15. My column for Tax Notes, a nonadvertising nonprofit that produces about 100 pages of tax journalism each week, runs every other week so my column came out on Oct 25 and was put in front of the subscriber pay wall at my request.

      Even though I had to wait 10 days to get into print I was not worried that anyone would scoop me.

      As my column notes, no reporter, economist or blogs or citizen journalist has used this data, my searches of Google and Nexis databases show.

      I offered an exclusive about my report late the previous week to all three networks, the big three cable news channels and various major newspapers, including two where I once worked. No one was interested, including shows that have had me on in the past (Fox and CNN) and have had me on lately (NPR and MSNBC).

      This was just the latest in a long line of stories I have broken about the official data that get no coverage because no one “announced” the data.

      Indeed, one TV producer asked me, “who announced this,” saying no press release seemed to be on the web. I said it was posted at a government website as it is each year with no announcement, just like the 400 highest income taxpayer data I write about each year that also gets no announcement, just a posting.

      I was then asked who did the analysis that was in my emailed pitch. I said I did. The producer lost all interest at this point, an indication of how much of the competitive news world I spent 40 years in has become a regurgitation of handouts business, with a some very notable exceptions. Unless someone official announces it is just not news, even from someone with all the bona fides I have.

      Bloomberg, an excellent source of accurate and often penetrating news, did carry a report by its highly competent tax reporter, Ryan J. Donmoyer, who learned his craft at Tax Notes, about my column.

      Among major papers only the LATimes (in Tim Rutten’s column) and the WashPost (in a brief on Page A11 from the Bloomberg piece) have told their readers any of the numbers in my column. Some provincials like the generally excellent Seattle Times, did put the Bloomberg story about my column on Page One.

      The reason I did not put the URL in my column was to see if anyone would ask for it.

      In the past I have cited the Medicare tax database and no one, even people who wrote at length about my work, asked for exactly where the data came from.

      Oh, and by the way, its Johnston, not Johnson.

      There will be more on this in the third book in my bestselling series on how the economy really works, taking from the many in the last three decades to enrich the few. THE FINE PRINT will be out next year.

      The column on the payroll data is still available free, along with some of my other columns, at

      David Cay Johnston

  9. kumari says:

    Wow!! Only 2 are from those nasty BIG OIL people, and not a one from those nasty Health Insurance companies.

    But they forgot Congress:

    Sen John Kerry D-Mass. $188.37 million

    Rep. Darrell Issa R-Cal $160.05 mill.

    Rep. Jane Harman D-Cal. $152.62 mill.

    Sen. Jay Rockefeller D-W.Va. $81.50 mill.

    Rep. Michael McCaul R-Tex $73.75 mill.

    Sen. Mark Warner D-W.Va. $70.19 mill.

    Rep. Jared Polis D-Col. $56.49 mill.

    Rep. Vern Buchanan R-Fla. $55.47 mill.

    Sen. Frank Lautenberg D-NJ $49.70 mill.

    Sen Diane Feinstein D-Cal. $46.07 mill.

    Rep. Alan Grayson D-Fla. $31.41 mill.

    Rep. Harry Teague D-NM $25.52 mill.

    Rep Nancy Pelosi D-Cal. $21.74 mill.

    • emptywheel says:

      You’re confusing net worth with income. The point being that 74 people made last year as much as these guys currently have to their name.

      And if you want to see more oil and gas start by clicking through to CEO compensation, which is measured slightly different, is much bigger than teh Forbes numbers cited here, and full of energy CEOs.

      • kumari says:

        I am not confusing anything..yes I know the difference.

        That is irrellevant in this debate. Your bank account is your bank account. You cannot diminish one group and not another.

        • emptywheel says:

          No, apparently you don’t know the difference or you wouldn’t be making a comparison between these relative paupers and what this post talks about.

    • BMcGarth says:

      Ya think,they going to vote ’emselves a pay raise this year.

      While Grandma & Grandpa can’t afford to eat dinner every night.

      Look,I wish I were more “sophisticated”,so I can organize a rally in the streets for our seniors.

      Any bets Mr.Obama is among the top earners in a few yrs folks ?

  10. djfourmoney says:

    Don’t you know the narrative?

    If your dumb its your fault.

    If your poor its your fault.

    If your sick its your fault.

    Then the question becomes. “Why should I help this or that when I did it on my own (untrue) and provide for myself/family?”

    This is as American as Apple Pie and hard to get over because its easy, simple to understand and black/white.

  11. Bluetoe2 says:

    As that great American socialist,Upton Sinclair, said, “You can’t expect someone to know something when their paycheck depends on them not knowing.”

  12. AitchD says:

    emptywheel, promise you won’t forget us when you’re rich. It’s too bad so many of your supporters have fallen on hard times (it’s shameful that your fund drive has stalled). I hope you get rich enough to make truth more valuable than money.

  13. behindthefall says:

    Moving who-knows-what-but-large fraction of U.S. manufacturing jobs to China wasn’t a good business model either. I bet it was done so that the “bottom line” would look (temporarily) good and lead to big bonuses for the execs who made those hard, hard decisions to deprive families of their livelihoods.

  14. BMcGarth says:

    Gee,I am going to tune into Olberman & Maddow now……I am sure they will

    be talking about income inequality & ordinary Americans…..Oh wait sorry,they would much rather misinform us with the regular Dems vs GOP clap trap.

  15. TheOracle says:

    (I just had to post the Rude Pundits entire post today. He summed up perfectly what our nation as a whole is facing, especially if the culture of corruption and untraceable corporate donations Republicans somehow take the government’s wheel back (at whatever level), driving our nation into an even deeper ditch. I hope he doesn’t cuss at me too much).


    A True Tale of the Corruption of Campaign Finance Laws:

    Sometimes, you have to use a small story, a parable, if you will, in order to explain the big picture. The corrupt state of our contemporary politics is such an enormous, overwhelming issue. Trying to take in the extent of the influx of outside money and its influence on elections is enough to make most citizens just flip the “off” switch in their brains. When you get past the money flood caused by the loathsome Citizens United decision, you’re left with attempting to explain how all the other funds that are raised for our ludicrously long election cycles make it impossible to have anything approaching actual democracy, and that discussion is usually met with the listeners putting their hands over their ears and yelling, “Lalala, I can’t hear you.” It’s just easier to pretend, ya know.

    So let’s microcosm this for a moment. Let’s take a single story about one person in a relatively small town and demonstrate what exactly is happening. For the tale of Ora Leonard is as clear an example of the destructive effects of our campaign finance laws on a personal level. It has the advantage of also being illustrative of the complete cruelty of our mortgage and finance system and the desperation of local governments.

    Follow the bouncing ball here for a little while:

    For the rest of the Rude One’s post see here.

    [Sorry, cannot leave the whole post up like that out of fair use concerns and respect for Lee (the Rude Pundit) – bmaz]

  16. progress says:

    The average wage in this top category increased from $91.2 million in 2008 to an astonishing $518.8 million in 2009. That’s nearly $10 million in weekly pay!

    Daily I see so many people who are struggling to get jobs and feel really sorry. Now we had bailout bonanza where government has paid lots of money, took lots of bad assets onto itself but job market has not recovered, top 1% still received record payouts, wall street had their best year ever, nobody except Mr. Madoff got accountability. How can I logically conclude above wages for top 1% are honest wages.