CBS & NBC Air Silly Stories Playing to Jealousy Over Exxon Chief's Retirement Pay

CBS and ABC played to petty jealousies on Thursday night. Both aired silly stories which contrasted the large retirement package, earned by former ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Lee Raymond, with the average retiree income or the burden rising gas prices supposedly put on a typical family. CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer announced: “The average American enters the golden years -- retirement -- expecting to live on less than $30,000 a year, and that includes Social Security. Well, it turns out to be a little more golden than that if you run a big oil company,” as if it's news that a successful executive, just like a network anchor, would retire with more than the average income. Reporter Anthony Mason proceeded to hype the biggest number possible -- “Lee Raymond is being rewarded in his retirement with a breathtaking package worth nearly $400 million” -- though that counts stocks and options which will take years to amass. Mason concluded by pointing out how Raymond made $190,000 a day in 2005 while “the average American worker...earns $43,000 a year." The Washington Post reported that Raymond may just get $8 million a year for his pension -- half what CBS will pay Katie Couric to read a tele-prompter for a half hour a night.

ABC's World News Tonight featured a “First Person” account from a man who claimed rising gas prices are “forcing him to change the way he and his family live their life.” Gary McIlroy used his ABC platform to lash out: “The oil companies continue to have soaring profits and soaring prices. And the American people are the ones taking it. We're the ones being gouged. So I sent a letter to the White House, saying, you know, we can't take this anymore if prices continue to go up and our paychecks are staying the same.” Vargas then ludicrously linked gas prices to Raymond's compensation, as if supply and demand have nothing to do with it: “Those high gas prices, in the meantime, are helping finance one of the richest retirement packages in U.S. corporate history. Former ExxonMobil Chairman Lee Raymond received compensation worth nearly $400 million when he retired last year.” Unmentioned by Vargas: How the chief of Disney, which owns ABC, got a lot more when he departed. (Transcripts follow.)

In an April 13 New York Times story, “Exxon Chairman Got Retirement Package Worth at Least $398 Million,” reporter Jad Mouawad pointed out: “The total sum for Mr. Raymond's golden years comes to at least $398 million, among the richest compensation packages ever. The record was the payout of $550 million to Michael D. Eisner, the former head of Walt Disney, in 1997."

Washington Post reporter Steven Mufson noted in his article: "A company spokesman said he did not know whether Raymond, who worked for Exxon for 43 years, took the lump-sum retirement payout or whether he opted for an $8 million-a-year pension instead."

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide transcripts of the April 13 ABC and CBS stories:

CBS Evening News. Anchor Bob Schieffer intoned:
"We have a story tonight that brings new meaning to the term 'golden years.' The average American enters the golden years -- retirement -- expecting to live on less than $30,000 a year [on screen: $27,639], and that includes Social Security. Well, it turns out to be a little more golden than that if you run a big oil company. Here's Anthony Mason."

Anthony Mason: "He was the mastermind of the ExxonMobil marriage, the merger that created the largest and most profitable oil company in the world. Now Lee Raymond is being rewarded in his retirement with a breathtaking package worth nearly $400 million. And if that's not enough, ExxonMobil will also pay his country club dues, give him use of the company aircraft, and a million dollar consulting contract. Of course, $400 million may seem like small change to a company that earned a $36 billion profit last year. And Raymond, over the years, has been touchy when questioned about ExxonMobil's good fortune."

Lee Raymond, ExxonMobil, on April 23, 2001: "Back when crude oil was $10, gasoline was less than a dollar a gallon, and our earnings were less than $2 billion a quarter, I don't recall seeing CBS in the room."

Mason: "But the shock may be that Raymond's retirement package isn't unusual."

Sarah Teslik, shareholder advocate: "Other companies are doing it. ExxonMobil is not alone. That doesn't make it better, it makes it scarier."

Mason: "The average pay for a CEO rose 27 percent last year to more than $11 million. The SEC is now considering new regulations to require companies to disclose more about what CEOs really make."

Jack Welch, retired General Electric CEO, January 17: "You want everybody to know."

Mason: "Former GE CEO Jack Welch was heavily criticized when his lavish retirement perks came out in divorce papers."

Welch: "But I'll tell you one thing, Anthony, for those of you who want to repeal for free markets and think that disclosure's going to cap compensation, don't hold your breath."

Mason, live at the anchor desk: "Lee Raymond earned $69 million in his last year as ExxonMobil's Chairman. That's $190,000 a day. The average American worker, Bob, earns $43,000 a year."


ABC's World News Tonight. Anchor Elizabeth Vargas:

"The average price of gasoline is now $2.68 a gallon, up nearly a dime in one week. That is 40 cents more per gallon than this time last year. It is starting to hurt people who thought it would never affect them, people like Gary McIlroy of Austin, Texas, who tells us how it's forcing him to change the way he and his family live their life. Here he is in the 'First Person.'"

Gary McIlroy, over video of his family and a print-out of his whining e-mail: "We used to spend around $50 to $75 a week in gas for our family. And now, we're spending $100, $125 a week. There are three of us that drive. We tend to car pool more together. Our vacation plans, particularly with summer coming along, we've already began discussing whether we would take a road trip or not down to the Texas coast. And if gas prices reach $3 a gallon, we probably won't do that. We've certainly reduced our evenings out and to try to manage the money that we have a little better. It is surprising that I am at this point in my life, and I have to think about that, because I have a good job, and my wife has a good job. The oil companies continue to have soaring profits and soaring prices. And the American people are the ones taking it. We're the ones being gouged. So I sent a letter to the White House, saying, you know, we can't take this anymore if prices continue to go up and our paychecks are staying the same. People need some help. This needs to stop."

Vargas segued to Raymond: "In the 'First Person' tonight. Those high gas prices, in the meantime, are helping finance one of the richest retirement packages in U.S. corporate history. Former ExxonMobil chairman Lee Raymond received compensation worth nearly $400 million when he retired last year. The company paid Raymond's country club fees and will continue allowing him to use its aircraft. Raymond will pay part of the cost for personal use of the company jet."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center