Lionizing Coke's King:
Media, myth, capitalism, and the death of Roberto Goizueta
Patricia J. Priest, Ph.D.
Cox Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research
Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602
[log in to unmask]
Fax: (706) 542-5036
Nate Kohn, Ph.D.
Department of Telecommunications
Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602
[log in to unmask]
Running head: Lionizing Coke's King
Lionizing Coke's King:
Media, myth, capitalism, and the death of Roberto Goizueta
Coca-Cola's press releases about CEO Roberto Goizeuta's death are compared to
the photgraphs and text of news articles and obituaries to tease out evidence of
reporting that mythologizes not only Goizueta but more significantly what Weber
(1958) calls "the spirit of capitalism," an ethos in which connotations of
morality are embedded in business success. We contend the reverential treatment
serves to ennoble the increasingly monopolistic financial successes of owners in
control of media empires.
Key Words: Capitalism, Coca-Cola, Myth, Media, Global Industries
Lionizing Coke's King:
Media, myth, capitalism, and the death of Roberto Goizueta
Generations from now, historians on this planet may assess Coca-Cola as the
principal symbol of twentieth-century American culture as well as its most
consequential export -- a somewhat frightening feat for an item comprised mostly
of sugar water. (Kahn, 1993, p. Xv)
The Associated Press photograph and its headline in the local paper arrest
attention. Monsignor J. Dillon is pictured leading "a packed church in
communion...at the funeral of longtime Coca-Cola chief Roberto C. Goizueta at
Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Atlanta" (Athens Daily News, 1997, p. A1). The
banner above the picture reads: "The world mourns with Coca-Cola."
The lower right-hand corner of the color photograph, taken by Michael Pugh, is
filled with the backs of men, mostly white, mostly gray-haired, white-collared,
dark-suited. Corporate America paying respect. Back in the corner, an American
flag hangs limp and vertical, its blue field of stars barely visible. At the
center of the photograph Monsignor Dillon stands, hands raised. Behind him are
more priests, and to his right, altar boys.
Most notable, however, are the colors: the robes of the priests and the altar
boys are red and white, Coca-Cola red and white. No muted imitation here, nor
the blood red of wine, nor the fiery red of the setting sun. The Roman Catholic
Church in Coke colors, perfectly hued, as if ordained by God Himself. A world
in absolute harmony: corporate America, Catholic Church, the media, the public,
united in Coca-Cola red and white. A warm embrace from those who taught the
world to sing, somehow benevolently embodying everything we hold dear, sacred,
close, right, natural. Suddenly, all is right with the world, and this man, in
death perhaps even more than in life, made it so.
This striking front-page news photograph, closely resembling a postmodern
commercial for the power and glory of Coca-Cola, Inc., led us to examine other
press reports relating to Goizueta's accomplishments, demise, and funeral. We
found that several read like advertising copy for Coca-Cola; for example,
newspaper headlines cleverly use key words from Coke slogans to produce gentle
editorial puns that work to subvert the finality of death and herald the
immortality of the brand: "A classic tribute to Goizueta," (Mitchell & Saporta,
1997, p. A1), "Goizueta's legacy 'the real thing'" (Brown, 1997, p. A8), and
"Coke pauses to pay its respects..." (Gramig, 1997, p. A1).
The prose in news stories of Goizueta's death is often laced with reverence,
especially in Georgia newspapers. As mentioned earlier, one headline reads,
"The world mourns with Coca-Cola" (Athens Daily News, 1997, p. A1). Another
article's subheading says, "A world leader in business and a role model in life"
Lionizing Coke's King
(Enrique & Woodyard, 1997, p. 3B); stories highlight Goizueta's tireless,
altruistic work until his last hours to raise share value and leave the company
in able hands. News copy praises the strength of Coca-Cola stock and celebrates
the trickle-down economic benefits to all strata of society on all continents.
Photos highlight attendance at the funeral by civil rights leaders and former
President Jimmy Carter (Mitchell, 1997, p. F10)--appearances that mark a public
relations coup for the company, concretizing the largeness and largess of Coke.
This coverage suggests, hard on the heels of the deaths of Princess Diana and
of Mother Teresa, that the world has suffered a third tragic loss. Indeed, the
spectacle of Goizueta's funeral, with its media coverage, was in many ways made
possible by, and modelled on, those two earlier funerals, traditionally private
ceremonies. Such implied linkages to those other recent funerals, suggested in
news photographs and implicit in press accounts, serve to enhance Goizueta's
legacy, placing him--and, by extension, other industry titans--in an exalted
The portrait of Goizueta as world hero is evident in news accounts, opinion
pieces, and standard obituaries. Barthes (1982) writes that "this repetition of
the concept through different forms is precious to the mythologist, it allows
him to decipher the myth: it is the insistence of a kind of behavior which
reveals its intention" (p. 106). Sidanious, Devereux, and Pratto (1992) argue
that "legitimizing myths are any coherent set of socially acceptable attitudes,
beliefs, values, and opinions that provide moral and intellectual legitimacy to
the unequal distribution of social value" (p. 380-381).
In this essay, we examine Coca-Cola's press releases about Goizeuta's death and
compare them with print coverage in order to investigate whose interests shape
and are served by the effusive coverage. Specifically, we address the following
questions: Was the reverential tenor of the news of Goizueta's death
engineered, either knowingly or unknowingly, by Coca-Cola's public relations
machine? Was it part of a marketing effort, whether planned or fortuitous, to
sell more Coca-Cola products, including stock in its enterprises? (After all,
Goizueta holds a bottle of Coca-Cola in many photographs attached to news
accounts of his death.) Why would the media give away such extensive, bubbly
publicity to Coca-Cola? And how might media owners benefit from a portrayal of
Goizeuta as a mythical figure on a level with Princess Diana and Mother Teresa?
Gans (1979) argues that "the values in the news are rarely explicit and must be
found between the lines--in what actors and activities are reported or ignored,
and in how they are described" (p. 39-40). Ideological influences--whose
interests are being served and toward what end--are most evident when an excess
in tone or coverage becomes salient, as in the copious, deferential reporting
that casts Goizeuta's wealth-generating accomplishments as a moral good, a model
of benevolent capitalism. Barthes (1982) argues that "Myth is too rich, and
what is in excess is precisely its motivation" (p. 113).
This essay details the press coverage of Goizeuta's death, arguing that various
ideological, cultural, and practical considerations motivate such journalistic
excess, an excess that can work to lay bare the "hidden sets of rules, codes,
and conventions though which meanings particular to...those in power...are
rendered universal and 'given' for the whole society" (Hebdige, 1993, p. 361).
Most interestingly, we contend that such expansive reporting helps to ennoble
the increasingly monopolistic financial successes of owners in control of
enormous--and enormously profitable--media empires, some of which are based in
Atlanta. Singing the praises of a man whose greatness lay in his ability
simultaneously to raise stock value, exalt the market economy, affirm globalism,
and validate the American dream imputes similar nobilities to those at the helms
of media companies.
Forces shaping the news
Tuchman (1978) and Darnton (1975) have detailed the impact of news routines on
story selection and structure. Other scholars point to manipulation by key
sources (Gans, 1979; Herman & Chomsky, 1988; Sigal, 1987). McManus' (1995)
market-based model of the news depicts the dynamic nature of the pressures
affecting news production, arguing that "what is common and central to all the
relationships in the model is a way of reasoning that is essentially economic"
(p. 302). Shoemaker and Reese's (1991) model locates pressures at interlocking
levels: the individual reporter; routines in place in the news room;
organizational constraints; extramedia influences from stockholders or sources;
and ideological pressures to serve the interests of society's elite. Herman and
Chomsky's (1988) "propaganda model" describes various factors restricting the
flow of news; two prominent ones are advertising pressures and the market-driven
nature of media companies (see also McChesney, 1997).
Altschull (1984), Bagdikian (1997), Lee and Solomon (1991), and Turow (1997)
also decry the oppressive influence of advertisers on news content. Baldasty's
(1992) research on the press in the 19th century describes the ways advertisers
demanded and received positive mention in news accounts and "expected newspapers
to become their advocates before the public" (p. 74). Bogart (1995) describes a
case in 1970 in which Coca-Cola withdrew its advertising from NBC in protest
over a documentary about migrant workers, a program unfavorable to Coke's
subsidiary, Minute-Maid. The company also threatened to call for the FCC to
investigate NBC's fitness to hold a broadcast license; NBC altered the script
under such pressure. As reported in current issues of American Journalism
Review, Brill's Content, Columbia Journalism Review, and other sources,
advertising pressures on news content continue to grow.
Advertisers have power in the newsroom because they provide approximately 80
percent of newspaper revenue (Standard and Poor's Industry Survey, 1997). The
Coca-Cola Company's annual global advertising expenditure for all media is $1
billion, a figure that excludes the $3 billion spent on event sponsorship and
promotions (Pendergrast, 1993).
A powerful public relations industry has mastered the game of slipping clients'
products and viewpoints into news and editorial copy; free and generally
well-produced PR copy is increasingly appealing to overworked editors because of
severe cutbacks in news staff at media firms. McChesney (1997) reports that
"press releases and PR-generated material today account for between 40 and 70
percent of the news in today's media" (p. 15).
Shoemaker and Reese (1991) and others contend that the greatest pressures,
however, emanate from owners of media enterprises, who keep their eyes almost
exclusively on the stock market value of their holdings (see also Auletta, 1991;
Bagdikian, 1997; Sanders & Baker, 1996). Such owners are some of the wealthiest
citizens in America; these media magnates serve as directors on other industrial
corporate boards, just as captains of more historically established industries
sit on their boards--a coziness that sometimes conflicts with the press's
watchdog function that serves the public (Bagdikian, 1997; Sanders & Baker,
Sanders and Baker (1996) describe a case involving one of The Atlanta
Journal-Constitution's owners, the billionaire Anne Chambers Cox, who served on
Coca-Cola's board of directors.1 Cox and Coca-Cola were displeased by her
papers' coverage of a grand jury investigation into allegations that Coca-Cola
had paid a bribe to the Soviets. The executive editor, Bill Kovach, who had
hoped to follow standard journalistic practices in covering the story, left the
paper when he found himself in conflict with his bosses over how to cover news
about their cronies' enterprises. Sanders and Baker's video summarizes the
fallout this way:
Since Kovach's departure, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has devoted much less
attention to stories which might disturb big business and the powerful. Its
reporting on Coca-Cola, for instance, seems to differ little from what Coca-Cola
might itself say if it were writing the stories.
What is striking about the media coverage of Goizeuta's death is the fawning
portrayal of his life and the outsized descriptions of his accomplishments--a
form of myth-making that, according to Barthes (1982), "transforms history into
Nature" (p. 117). In the pages that follow, we analyze press coverage of
Goizueta's death and funeral in major papers (USA Today; The Atlanta
Journal-Constitution; The Wall Street Journal; Los Angeles Times; The New York
Times; The Washington Post; and our local Georgia paper, The Athens Daily News,
in which coverage is attributed solely to Associated Press reports) and in
weekly news magazines Time and Newsweek. We analyze photographs, headlines, and
text to tease out evidence of reporting that makes natural as it mythologizes,
not only Goizueta, but more significantly what Weber (1958) calls "the spirit of
capitalism," a pervasive ethos in the United States in which connotations of
morality are embedded in business success.
Rhapsody in Red: News Coverage of Goizueta's Death
The media often rely on corporate and government institutions for information
about key figures and events. Upon our request, The Coca-Cola Company provided
us with 8 pages of releases that had been issued to the press. The releases
spanned early reports of Goizueta's radiation treatments through news of his
death and funeral.
The releases we received contained no peppy phrasing such as those seen in news
headlines. Instead, they conveyed a business-like detailing of Goizueta's life
and accomplishments, with an emphasis on the company's rising market value
during his tenure as CEO. The release that reports his death provides dollar
figures for the rise in share value and notes that "This growth makes him one of
the greatest value creators of the century" ("Roberto C. Goizueta, Chairman...,"
p. 1, emphasis added). In addition to praising Goizueta's business savvy, the
releases also highlight the corporate largess and extended global reach that
occurred under his stewardship.
As expected, comparing news coverage with Coca-Cola's public relations releases
confirms the company's role in shaping news coverage of Goizueta's death.
Prominent in the releases--and subsequently in news accounts--is information
that Goizueta emigrated from Cuba with only 100 shares of Coca-Cola stock and
that the share price of Coca-Cola had risen dramatically under his stewardship.
The math is done for us, providing figures about the value in 1997 of 1000
shares of stocks purchased when Goizueta first took the reigns of the company.
News articles often provide this company-supplied information in sidebars.
Importantly, too, many assurances are given in the press releases and in news
accounts that the company is not expected to falter after Goizueta's death.
Prominent play is given to claims that he has groomed an appropriate successor,
as he himself was groomed by Robert W. Woodruff, described in a press release as
"the Company's legendary leader" ("Roberto C. Goizueta, Chairman...," p. 2).
Additionally, company photographs of Goizueta holding a bottle of Coca-Cola are
prominent in much of the news coverage.
Implicit in every news story is the company's notion that Coca-Cola's share
appreciation is good for the country and the world, not just for wealthy private
investors but for anyone and everyone, especially those prudent enough to have
invested in Coke. Goizueta's tireless and successful work to place Coca-Cola
products in every corner of the world is also depicted by the company and by
the press as a boon to educational organizations and charitable foundations
whose stock portfolios benefitted from the attendant increase in Coke share
The company may have played a part in the shaping of the funeral itself; the
music at the funeral included "I'd like to teach the world to sing" (according
to press accounts, at Mrs. Goizueta's request). In addition, a Coca-Cola bottle
was prominently displayed on the podium at memorial services held for Goizueta
("Coke employees congregate," 1997).
Is it unseemly to sell the Coca-Cola image at funerals? Or does it matter
anymore in a time and place--what Bakhtin terms a chronotope (see Clifford,
1995, p. 66)--when and where blurring boundaries is privileged and polysemy is
the order of the day? Among the "manifest functions" Silverblatt (1995)
attributes to advertising are: "Attracting the attention of the consumer to the
product,...stimulating markets, supporting the business community, and
establishing and maintaining a lasting relationship between the consumer and a
company" (p. 178). Fursich and Lester (1997) point to The Coca-Cola Company's
masterful integrated marketing techniques evident at its corporate museum; news
of Goizueta's death and funeral in which his personal success is inexorably
linked with the company's success--the Coke bottle, the Coke song, the Coke
colors at the service memorializing his life--also appears to accomplish the
goals Silverblatt lists. Once viewed as crass, such blatant company-driven
motivated marketing efforts are now taken in stride by a hegemonized public,
even admired by some, including postmodern critics, as innovative,
opportunistic, clever, playful, part of the new "way of things" in contemporary
media-saturated culture. Goizueta was a master at employing these new marketing
strategies, even to the extent of becoming involved in the planning of his own
memorial and funeral. An AP report notes that Goizueta previewed the press
release about his death in his final week of life (Sewell, 1997, p. A7).
News Routines and Reliance on Sources
News routines clearly play a part when famous people die; their obituaries are
often prepared in advance in order to more quickly respond to deadlines. News
of the deaths of celebrities and other prominent individuals can serve as a
strong selling tool. Ghiglione (1985) quotes a managing editor at People
magazine, who said, "Death sells best." Ghiglione notes that [as of 1985],
"People's three top-selling covers of all time were, in order, the death of John
Lennon, the death of Grace Kelly, and the death of Karen Carpenter" (p. 201).
The public's appetite for tragic depictions of death was whetted in 1997 by the
copious (and profitable) coverage of the deaths of Princess Diana and Mother
News is also packaged into common storylines (Darnton, 1975). When we
mentioned this research to others, especially reporters, they all nodded, that,
yes, they had noticed the reverence, the grand scope, and the hype of the
coverage. Most people argued that the story was big because it represented a
Horatio Alger success story, a classic tale in which a young man rises from
humble origins to become a powerful leader in business. But while Goizueta had
had to flee Cuba with only a suitcase when he was 30, his family had been one of
the wealthiest in Cuba, where he grew up in a baronial mansion and attended the
finest schools. The hyped coverage was naturalized by expectations of a Horatio
Alger theme that is never quite debunked. Barthes (1982) argues that this type
of distortion is characteristic of myth: carefully crafted first impressions
overdetermine the reading and overpower information which may refute the mythic
Reliance on sources favorable to Coca-Cola is also in evidence in the coverage,
much of it taken from the company's press releases. Newspaper and magazine
reports frequently quote Warren Buffett, a member of Coca-Cola's board of
directors, who praises Goizueta and his replacement, reassuring investors that
the CEO's death will not cause the company to stumble. Buffett, the much
admired quintessential 90's stock market investor and one of the world's richest
men because of it, is quoted in the Coca Cola press release as saying: "No one
loved The Coca-Cola Company more than Roberto...His greatest legacy is the way
he so carefully selected and nurtured the future leadership of his company...He
was a great leader and a great gentleman" (p. 2).
Goizueta himself is quoted liberally, and he is often given the last word in
news accounts. In Time, the article ends with Goizueta's assurance that people
"shouldn't worry about the company, because it's in better shape than its ever
been" (Perman, 1997, p. 103). The writer has earlier argued that "it is a
notable achievement that Goizueta built a management team that can absorb his
loss" (p. 103). Such proclamations of continued strength embedded in most
coverage is clearly company-inspired to lessen the risk to stock value that
normally comes with transitions of power.
Most sources used by the press--primarily those made available in company press
releases--have a vested interest in the company's continued success. Even
securities advisors are unlikely to be neutral or unfavorable, because the
holdings they oversee often include the company's stock. Schwartz's (1997)
obituary in The New York Times includes one of the few negative pieces of
information about Goizueta (aside from pervasive descriptions of the New Coke
debacle, which ended up well for the company). He reports that Goizueta kept
track of what securities analysts said about the company; Schwartz quotes a
high-ranking analyst, who said, "There's no doubt about the fact that he
terrorized some analysts into saying nice things and recommending the
stock....He did actually cut off certain institutions from talking to the
company, over something they did or didn't say" (p. 45). This information about
his pressuring people whose job is to evaluate stock value independently,
however, is presented in the context of "a man fiercely devoted to his company"
Excess: Celebrating the Market
We expected the press releases to be chockful of hyped writing, since news
reports were infused with myth-making about money-making. Instead, the releases
were rather sober reports of the man's and the company's financial success. We
suggest that the noticeably red-hot treatment was fueled not so much by the
company as by the interests of media owners, who are served well by resurrecting
the image of an ennobled capitalist class as "one of the greatest value
Specific examples of pressures by media owners on reporters and editors are
rarely documented; direct interference may not be necessary, because news
workers learn to censor themselves and are often chosen in the first place
because they are considered "right-thinking people" (Herman & Chomsky, 1988).
McChesney (1997) writes: "Under the commercial constraints and corporate
cutbacks facing journalists, they are hard-pressed to interject any politics
that might antagonize their bosses" (p. 58; see also Garnham, 1990).
While no overt pressure may have been placed on reporters to write the reports
a certain way, the reverent tone of the coverage is often striking, especially
in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and AP accounts. These influences partly
stem from the way the funeral was staged--with songs like "How Great Thou Art"
chosen and reported in AP news accounts (Sewell, 1997, p. 7A), and speakers such
as former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young asserting that "this community,
this nation, our world, has been blessed by the life, the mission, and the
presence of Roberto Goizueta" (Sewell, 1997, p. A7). Young also portrayed
Goizueta's tenure at Coca-Cola as a "mission ordained by God" (Sewell, 1997, p.
A7). His characterization of Goizueta is placed in the second paragraph of the
AP report printed by The Athens Daily News; it follows a phrase by the reporter
that describes Goizueta "as a passionate, visionary leader who looked after his
company even in the last hours before he died in his beloved wife's arms" (p.
In a business column in The Atlanta Constitution, Saporta (1997) describes
meeting Goizueta as "the equivalent of having an audience with the pope" (in an
article titled "Always full of spirit, soul of Coca-Cola CEO will live on," p.
F3). She notes that Goizueta and the chairman of Home Depot had "exchanged
thoughts on how they had become the souls of their respective companies. Souls
live on, they agreed, even after CEOs retire" (p. F3). This religious cast was
also highlighted in color photos on the front page of the business section of
The Atlanta Constitution; one image showed a single figure in front of stained
glass panels depicting Mary and Jesus ("Goodbye, Chairman Goizueta," 1997, p.
The deaths of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana, both within the previous two
months, allowed the press reports about Goizueta's death to reverberate with
traces of the spiritual sentiment prevalent that autumn and inspired the linkage
that the world had lost not two but three saintly individuals who had done much
for the poor. The media conspicuously traded on that frame of saintliness,
eagerly capitalizing on the phenomenon of celebrity death, to portray
Goizueta--and by association other heads of major corporations, including media
giants--as similarly contributing to the public good. The press releases' theme
of "value creator" is taken up with gusto.
The Wall Street Journal's coverage is notable in this regard (Deogun, 1997).
Its three-tiered headline in the front-page story about Goizueta's death first
mentions the stock appreciation, then moves to the banner: "He said social good
came with creating wealth; Atlanta proves his point" (p. A1). Deogun argues
that "the widespread impact of Coke's stock-price rise shows that 'creating
shareholder wealth' can do far more for a community than boost sales of BMWs"
The lifestyles of the rich and famous whose personal wealth had been boosted by
Coke's stock surge are not detailed in The Wall Street Journal article, nor is
the lifestyle of Goizueta, a billionaire. Instead, the long, front-page article
includes profiles of two rather modest individuals who have benefitted from
investing in Coke stock. One man has retired from medicine to volunteer full
time at a free clinic for the poor. Another, a dentist, is grateful to the
company because his shares are now worth a small fortune. He is quoted as
saying, "I've sunk most of my available money in Coke stock, and every time I
look at my retirement plan I know I don't have to worry" (p. A13).
The Wall Street Journal article also describes the wealth flowing to (private)
universities Emory and Agnes Scott, both of which have been able to expand,
offer scholarships and endowed chairs, and thrive with the enormous windfall
from shares held by their institutions. Deogun's article also mentions that the
foundations have helped a failing museum of natural history in Atlanta. He
adds: "It isn't hard to catch glimpses of Coke's impact everywhere. Thousands
of trees have been planted [in Atlanta]" (p. A13). Surprisingly, however,
little additional detail is given about the work of foundations associated with
Coca-Cola or about Goizueta's oft-mentioned philanthropy, efforts that do indeed
provide important benefits--especially to the citizens of Atlanta. For example,
Newsweek's article details his business genius but limits comment about other
aspects of the man to this: "He was always lauded for his integrity and his
philanthropy, but it was his attention to the bottom line that made Coke the
favorite brew of Wall Street" (Kaplan & McGinn, 1997, p. 45).
Allen's (1997) opinion piece in The Atlanta Constitution simply mentions that
the Woodruff Foundation now "has comparable heft with the Ford and Rockefeller
foundations" (p. A9); merely leaving it at that suggests that philanthropy is
only a competition for prestige. Allen adds that, due to the company's success,
"dozens of Atlanta families will be leaving millions, perhaps billions, of
dollars to charity" (p. A9). This is the classic trickle-down theory of
American capitalism, one given free play in America's press on this occasion.
The New York Times' obituary is one of very few that mentions a rumblings of
stockholder criticism of Goizueta's $83 million stock bonus awarded in 1991.
This information is followed, however, with mention of a group of Goizueta's
fervent supporters: "'the Coca-Cola widows,' a cadre of Georgia women whose
working-class husbands had bought a few shares of Coca-Cola and held them to
become millionaires" (Schwartz, 1997, p. 45).
Reports include very few negative aspects of the man or his business maneuvers.
Rarely mentioned are the hard-ball tactics The Coca-Cola Company uses to muscle
competitor's products off shelves. Indeed, when they are mentioned, they are
given a positive spin, as in The Washington Post: "By acquiring some of the
bottlers outright--Coke was able to gain more shelf space in more places. It
also was able to raise wholesale prices for its all-important syrup and thus
enhance its profits" (Farhi, 1997, p. B8).
Nor is there any criticism in any of the coverage of the
hyper-commercialization of global culture by Coca-Cola (e.g., Coke's presence at
the Olympics), the monopoly tactics Coke employs to preclude sales of Pepsi and
other companies' products in outlets that sell Coca-Cola, the rise in sugar
consumption linked to the hyperpromotion of softdrinks, or of environmentalists'
efforts to influence Coke to package its products in reusable bottles. These
aspects of The Coca-Cola Company's world supremacy affect the quality of life
globally, but these articles present Coca-Cola in a wholly favorable light.
It is true that Coke is the largest employer in Africa and that foundations set
up by the company, Guizueta, and others who have become wealthy from company
stock holdings have contributed to many worthy organizations. The trees planted
throughout Atlanta with Coke foundation, however, can only partially offset the
omnipresence of Coke signage. Particularly ubiquitous are the glowing Coke
machines, which Goizueta hoped to place within arm's reach of everyone around
the globe. If Coca-Cola can use ceremonial occasions to promote itself and it
products--as evidenced by Goizueta's memorial service--then the media should
feel obliged to include a critical assessment of social costs when taking the
measure of the corporation and its executives--even in obituaries.
The Spirit of Capitalism Lives On
Lionizing Goizueta yields specific advantages for the city of Atlanta and its
flagship papers, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The city can trumpet its
international stature because of the financial royalty who call the city home.
Furthermore, the racial mix of those attending the funeral suggests that the
days of segregation are long past. Allen's (1997) opinion piece in The Atlanta
Constitution concludes with these words:
During the early part of [long-time CEO] Woodruff's era, Atlanta was striving to
become a respectable national city in a region that still suffered the ravages
of poverty, ill health, and ignorance. Today, the city's ambition--like
Coca-Cola's marketplace--is global, and much of the credit belongs to Roberto
Goizueta. (p. A9)
Those same problems still greatly plague Atlanta, and the company's role in
eradicating poverty and other problems abroad is left unexplained.
This beatification of Goizueta most evident in the Atlanta papers resonated
across the U.S. coverage we examined; here was an American saint to match
Britain's Diana and India's Mother Teresa. Goizueta's mission of making
shareholders wealthy is implicitly portrayed as commensurate to working to end
the use of land mines and helping the poor in India--if readers buy into beliefs
about trickle-down economics and the boon to society from corporate largess and
executive philanthropy (rather than the benefits that would accrue from lower
prices and/or improved wages for workers).
One of the abiding values promulgated in the press, Gans (1979) contends, is a
firm faith in the market as a beneficent force in society. Gans suggests that
an overly naive picture of capitalism results from a blind faith that
"businessmen and women will compete with each other in order to create increased
prosperity for all, but that they will refrain from unreasonable profits" (p.
46). In this coverage, there is almost never a hint of capitalist excess, which
is not surprising, since profit margins for media companies themselves are
consistently well above average (McManus, 1995).
Quinn (1998), a respected business columnist, critiques the trade of business
journalism, arguing that "too much coverage these days treats making money as a
moral value" (p. 48). She notes problems inherent in uncritical coverage:
People are getting hurt by some of these money celebrities we push, although we
won't know how much until the stock market folds....These readers aren't greedy
or dumb -- which is how they'll be pictured when the music stops. They believe
the stuff we're telling them. It's almost shocking to see how much they trust
the press. (p. 48)
Weber (1958) argues that throughout its history, the United States has imbued
acquiring and accumulating wealth with highly positive, even "transcendental"
overtones (p. 53). Weber notes that Benjamin Franklin, whose aphorisms often
touted the work ethic, was heavily influenced by this verse from Proverbs:
"Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings" (p.
53). Importantly, Weber points to the ways those in power benefit from
promulgating this ethos. Mills (1956) notes that the "power elite" use the
media to shore up the rationale sustaining their elite status.
Real (1989) and McChesney (1997) have also noted the media's exaltation of the
market economy. Bagdikian (1997) describes long-standing practices of
"unrelieved glorification of business people, not just in advertisements where
corporations pay for self-praise but in 'news' that is assumed to be
dispassionate" (p. 52). McChesney (1997) writes:
The market may well be a "civic religion," but faith in the market decreases the
further one looks down the social pecking order. For much of the U. S.
population the turn to the unbridled "free market" in the 1980s and 1990s has
been a largely negative experience, and for a significant minority the turn has
been disastrous. It is the "talking classes," the upper class, the upper middle
class, and the intellectuals who have become the most enthralled with the
market's genius...in their conceit they assume to speak for all. (p. 52)
Fashioning Goizueta's success into a parable that equates corporate stock
appreciation with a moral good fulfills several useful functions for media
monopolists engaged in similar feats of unfettered globalization. Jensen (1997)
argues that among the ten most censored news stories in 1989 was the elision of
news about media monopolies' expansion into foreign markets, where they often
diminish rather than expand the range of information available--while boosting
Furthermore, media executives' enormous salaries are rationalized by the
mythmaking of trickle-down economics prevalent in coverage of Goizueta's
accomplishments. The steep differentials between the salaries pulled down by
corporate CEOs and the salaries of their average employees are left unquestioned
in such coverage--although the differential in the United States is roughly ten
times that found in Japan, for example (Crystal, 1993). The press is unlikely
to criticize Coke's (or other) executives' compensation packages, because media
owners often earn even more. King (1998) reports these figures about the
widening gap between corporate executives and the average worker:
In 1975 it would have taken the median family incomes of nine families to make
up the pay of the CEO of the Walt Disney Company. In 1995 it took the median
family incomes of 203 families to equal the CEO's take. In 1975 it required 21
median family incomes to pay the CEO of Coca Cola. In 1995, 124 family incomes
were required to compensate Coca Cola's CEO. (p. 9)
Coverage of Goizueta's death and accomplishments, then, results in an uncritical
celebration of the naturalized practices of big--and ever-expanding and highly
The Atlanta Constitution reports that McDonald's restaurants, where Coca-Cola
products are the only soft drink choice, lowered their flags to half-mast to
mark Goizeuta's passing (Mitchell & Saporta, 1997, p. A1). A staff photo in The
Atlanta Journal shows the U.S. flag alongside Coca-Cola's flag, both at
half-mast; Goizueta is shown in front of the U.S. flag in another image in the
same layout (Mitchell & Eblen, 1997, p. C1). Barthes (1982) argues that myth
often draws its power from a "planned syncretism" with nation (p. 126).
The MacDonald's flag, the Coca-Cola flag, the American flag--interchangeable
symbols of global economic power that gain strength through associative
synergy--fly together across the pages of American newspapers and magazines.
This heady combination of ideological kin--global corporations, the United
States, international media conglomerates and their flagship
publications--embodies the spirit of a strident capitalism in the contemporary
moment. Unfettered and triumphant, this swaggering axis moves imperially
through the world. But occasionally, in moments of excess when new myths are
being made--as exemplified by the coverage of Goizueta's death--cracks appear
that expose the structures of power and their formidable articulations. And it
is through a process of "making visible"--the convergence of their excess with
critical analyses such as ours--that change becomes possible.
In sum, American media organized facts about Goizueta's accomplishments into a
paean to American capitalists and the stock market. The media conglomerates
McChesney and Herman (1997) call "the new missionaries of corporate capitalism"
now ply media content that has become increasingly similar to--and as profitable
1. The company's 1997 annual report lists Cathleen Black, president of Hearst
magazines, as a member of Coca-Cola's board. References
Allen, F. (1997, October 20). Goizueta brought Coke to new heights. The
Atlanta Constitution, p. A9.
Altschull, J. H. (1984). Agents of power. New York: Longman.
Auletta, K. (1991). Three blind mice: How the TV networks lost their way.
New York: Random House.
Bagdikian, B. (1997). Media monopoly (5th ed.). Boston: Beacon.
Baldasty, G. (1992). The commercialization of news in the 19th century.
Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.
Barthes, R. (1982). Myth today. In S. Sontag (Ed.), A Barthes Reader (pp.
93- 149). New York: Hill and Wang.
Bogart, L. (1995). Commercial culture: The media system and the public
interest. New York: Oxford University Press.
Brown, C. R. (1997, October 20). Goizueta's legacy 'the real thing.' The
Atlanta Journal, p. A8.
Clifford, J. (1993). On collecting art and culture. In S. During (Ed.), The
cultural studies reader (pp. 49-73). London and New York: Routledge.
"Coke employees congregate to remember their leader." (1997, October 23).
Athens [Georgia] Daily News, p. A6.
Crystal, G. (1993, November/December). The C.E.O. factor. Columbia Journalism
Review, pp. 49-50.
Darnton, R. (1975). Writing news and telling stories. Daedalus, 104(2),
Deogun, N. (1997, October 20). Roberto Goizueta led Coca-Cola stock surge, and
its home prospers. The Wall Street Journal, pp. A1, A13.
Enrico, D., & Woodyard, C. (1997). From immigrant to 'giant of American
industry.' USA Today, p. B3.
Farhi, P. (1997, October 19). Roberto Goizueta dies; Coca-Cola chief. The
Washington Post, p. B8.
Fursich, E., & Lester, E. P. (1998, November). Message in a bottle: Corporate
museums and public discursive space. Paper presented at the meeting of the
National Communication Association, New York City.
Gans, H. J. (1979). Deciding what's news: A study of CBS Evening News, NBC
Nightly News, Newsweek, and Time. New York: Vintage.
Garnham, N. (1990). Capitalism and communication: Global culture and the
economics of information. London: Sage.
Ghiglione, L. (1985). Is the press quietly promoting suicide and other forms
of death chic? In B. Rubin (Ed.), When information counts: Grading the media
(pp. 201-213, 234). Lexington Books, Lexington, MA.
"Goodbye, Chairman Goizueta." (1997, October 21). The Atlanta Constitution, p.
Gramig, M. H. (1997, October 20). Around the glove, Coke pauses to pay its
respects to Goizueta. The Atlanta Constitution, p. A1.
Hebdige, D. (1993). From culture to hegemony. In S. During (Ed.), The
cultural studies reader (pp. 358-367). London and New York: Routledge.
Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (1988). Manufacturing consent: The political
economy of the mass media. New York: Pantheon.
Jensen, C. (1997). Twenty years of censored news. New York: Seven Stories
Kahn, E. J., Jr. (1993). Forward. In M. Pendergrast. For God, country, and
Coca-Cola: the unauthorized history of the great American soft drink and the
company that makes it (pp. xv). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
Kaplan, D. A., & McQuinn, D. (1997, October 27). The end of an era. Newsweek,
King, M. E. P. (1998, September). Journalism in an egalitarian society. Ethics
in Journalism, 1, 5-11. (Newsletter published by the Department of Journalism
and Mass Communication at Washington and Lee University, Lexington, VA.)
Lee, M. A., & Solomon, N. (1991). Unreliable sources: A guide to detecting
bias in news media. New York: Carol.
McChesney, R. W. (1997). Corporate media and the threat to democracy. New
York: Seven Stories Press.
McChesney, R. W., & Herman, E. S. (1997). Global media: the new missionaries
of corporate capitalism. London: Cassell.
McManus, J. (1995). A market-based model of news production. Communication
Theory, 5(4), 301-338.
Mills, C. W. (1956). The power elite. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mitchell, C. (1997, October 22). With his dying breath, he did what he loved.
The Atlanta Constitution, p. F10.
Mitchell, C., & Eblen, T. (1997, October 19). Funeral Tuesday for Coca-Cola
CEO. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, p. A1.
Mitchell, C., & Saporta, M. (1997, October 22). A classic tribute to Goizueta.
The Atlanta Constitution, p. A1.
Pendergrast, M. (1993). For God, country, and Coca-Cola: the unauthorized
history of the great American soft drink and the company that makes it. New
York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
Perman, S. (1997, October 27). The man who knew the formula. Time, 102-103.
Quinn, J. B. (1998, March/April). When business writing becomes soft porn.
Columbia Journalism Review, 48-49.
Real, M. (1989). Super media: A cultural studies approach. Newbury Park, CA:
"Roberto C. Goizueta, chairman, CEO of The Coca-Cola Company dies at the age of
65." (1997, October 18). Five-page company press release.
Sanders, B. (Producer/Director), & Baker, R. (Co-Producer/Writer). (1996).
Fear and favor in the newsroom [Video]. (Available from California Newreel, 149
Ninth Street, San Francisco, CA 94103)
Saporta, M. (1997, October 22). Always full of spirit, soul of Coca-Cola CEO
will live on. The Atlanta Journal/The Atlanta Constitution, p. F3.
Schudson, M. (1989). The sociology of news production. Media, Culture and
Society, 11, 263-282.
Schwartz, J. (1997, October 19). Roberto C. Goizueta, Coca-Cola chairman noted
for company turnaround, dies at 65. The New York Times, p. 45.
Sewell, D. (1997, October 22, 1997). Coca-Cola chief eulogized in service.
Athens Daily News, p. A7.
Shoemaker, P. J., & Reese, S. D. (1991). Mediating the message. New York:
Sidanious, J. E., Devereux, E., & Pratto, F. (1992). A comparison of symbolic
racism theory and social dominance theory as explanations for racial policy
attitudes. Journal of Social Psychology, 132(3), 377-395.
Sigal, L. V. (1987). Sources make the news. In R. K. Manoff & M. Schudson
(Eds.), Reading the news (pp. 9-37). New York: Pantheon.
Silverblatt, A. (1995). Media literacy: Keys to interpreting media messages.
Westport, CT: Praeger.
Standard and Poor's Industry Survey. (1997).
Tuchman, G. (1978). Making news: A study in the construction of reality. New
York: Free Press.
Turow, J. (1997). Media systems in society: Understanding industries,
strategies, and power (2nd ed.). New York: Longman.
Weber, M. (1958). The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism (T.
Parsons, Trans.). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
"World mourns with Coca-Cola." (1997, October 22). Athens [Georgia] Daily News,