'Get Rich Cheating,' Part 2
Chapter 22 Private Cash
If you’ve followed any of my recommendations, it’s safe to say you’ve been bad, but shhhhh, don’t say a word. What you tell the public—and how—will go a long way toward determining how rich you can cheat (and how long you remain free). You may not like to deal with “people,” but “people” are your customers, investors, employees, investigators, readers, audience, and fans. You need to control what they think, feel, and believe.
Image Is Everything
Did you know Donald Trump is a marginally successful real estate mogul who’s gone through bankruptcies and business controversy? Of course not. You think he’s a winner, a TV show host, trophy-wife gatherer, and tester of futuristic outer space hair pieces. Why? Because that’s what he tells us he is—that’s the image he self-promotes. He knows people only register the superficial stuff. If he acts like a winner all the time, we’ll have no choice but to believe him, give him money to be part of the action, or get out of the way. Perception is reality for this Great Cheater. He has everyone beat before they even begin to play.
A Great Cheater distracts people from his lack of substance with attitude, presence, and style. Look the part. That’s all you need to do. Create your own aura of success and accomplishment. Tell others you’re great, and eventually they’ll believe it. Make yourself an icon.
Steven Schwarzman, head of Blackstone, arrives by helicopter, even when driving’s easier. “You have to make an impression. ‘If you want my time, I’m so valuable, this is how I travel.’ ”1 You gotta flaunt it. Gary Milby, head of MidAmerica Energy, threw a party for his daughter that was broadcast on MTV’s My Super Sweet 16. It had horse-drawn carriages, a faux castle, and helicopters. Never mind that he’d offered investors fraudulent shares in energy partnerships and that the broadcast got regulators all over him—he looked good. And everybody wants to get with someone who looks good.
For entertainers, this has never been easier. Celebrity news is an exploding market, providing sustenance to soulless paparazzi around the world. A lot of these photographers and reporters came from families who could barely afford a Polaroid. Don’t let them down. Exploit their niche. TMZ, The Enquirer, The Insider, Crotch-Shots Weekly … these enhance your worth as a human commodity. Pursue them. Bad publicity is the best. A sex scandal? A few million. A sex and drug scandal? A few million more. A scandal with sex, drugs, and elected officials? Priceless.
What does Paris Hilton do again? Nothing. But she’s making gobs of money because she’s got an image, a public presence. Kim Kardashian, Carson Kressley, whoever else is on Bravo and VH1? Besides a diddle-exposing sex tape, they don’t do diddly, are probably signs of an imminent apocalypse, aren’t substantially adding to the world, but are worth jillions. They’re walking, talking, rich, cheating hype machines.
Barack Obama made himself a rock star by combining hype with hope. Can’t deny hope. Who doesn’t like hope? No one … except all those who didn’t think of turning it into a billion-dollar campaign—and trillion-dollar presidency—first.
Should your image even remotely reflect your actual essence? HA! George W. Bush campaigned as an everyman, a blue-collar schlub, even though he’s really a prep-school, Ivy-educated frat boy who lived on a vacation ranch bought with oil money attained with family connections, and, more obviously, was the only one in his family with a Texas accent, even though he was born in Connecticut … and it got thicker the longer he lived in D.C.! It’s like he graduated from Yale with a degree in Talking Like a Toothless Banjo Player.
Unless you want someone else to yell, “You’re fired!” from beneath a helmet of hair, consider these additional cheater image-enhancing techniques:
• Get your name plastered on worthy causes. Abercrombie & Fitch got a Columbus trauma center named after it for $10 million. Sure, A&F caused the trauma by forcing kids to pursue an unattainable Aryan body image, but shhhhh. Nationwide Insurance named a children’s hospital for $50 million, and now kids can see who’s denying their health coverage right there in the hospital. That’s efficient and deceptive.
• Pay attractive women to spend time with you. It will look like you’ve earned it. Chances are, if you’re reading this book, you’re no looker.
• Act bored. It gives you an air of authority, a presence that says nothing can faze you. Oh, I just lost $10 million? Whatever. I don’t care, ten million’s not that important to me.
• Repeat something enough times, eventually it becomes true.
• Repeat something enough times, eventually it becomes true.
• Repeat something enough times, eventually …
Just remember: Honesty is the best policy only if you do not want to Get Rich Cheating.
You must walk a fine line when crafting your public persona. Sometimes, the best image for a Great Cheater isn’t arrogant and successful, but humble, pious, and devout. BUT! Do not practice what you preach. For instance, John Rigas refused to allow Adelphia to carry X-rated programming, treated employees well, put his phone number on bills, and financed medical centers, all while immorally cheating his way to a fortune. Good for him. Consider these other hypocritunties:
• Building a million-member church based upon outrage over sexual deviancy while buying drugs and having illicit homosexual affairs. (Pastor Ted Haggard was the founder of New Life Church in Colorado and outspokenly condemned homosexual activity. He was forced to resign after being caught using drugs with a male prostitute. Cool.)
• Speaking out against gambling from Vegas. (Billy “The Book of Virtues” Bennett wrote a book called, surprisingly, The Book of Virtues and his Empower America organization opposed casinos. In 2003 he admitted he was a high-stakes gambler who’d lost millions in Vegas, butbutbut he only played on blackjack tables of great virtue.)
• Criticizing congressional earmarks, then requesting thousands yourself. (Bush was an outspoken opponent of congressional earmarks but has requested thousands himself. Including: $330 million to research pest control, $1.5 million for a waterway, $900,000 for an air traffic control tower in Kalamazoo—that place sucks—$12 million for a parachute repair shop, $6.5 million for asphalt research, $2 million to detect neutrinos at the South Pole, and $28 million for GE and Siemens to do go-nowhere research. What about the folks who get all this earmarked money? They’re Getting Rich Cheating too, aren’t they? See Chapter 19: Friends, Cheaters, Countrymen.)
• Announcing you will limit yourself to a salary of just one dollar but “forgetting” to mention your signing bonus and stocks. (Thanks for the tip, Richard Miller of Delphi! Your compensation in 2005 was $3.75 million. Your “salary” was only $1. Auto companies, take note.)
• Railing against infidelity while cheating on your spouse. (Congress people Henry Hyde and Helen Chenoweth, while pursuing the impeachment of Bill Clinton, were both later revealed to have been adulterers.)
• Proselytizing the Bible on TV while awaiting trial. (My man, Richard Scrushy of HealthSouth, read the Bible on a morning TV show called Viewpoint in Birmingham during his trial … in Birmingham. He began preaching in churches and invited pastors and followers to his trial. Hallelujah, praise cheat-us!)
• Ending affirmative action after getting a position to do so because of affirmative action. (Supreme Court Justice Clarence “My book sold millions and I’ve got a job for life” Thomas.)
• Praising the free market while circumventing its rules. (Everybody ever born.)
Succes$tory: “We fired Kate Moss for her cocaine bust. We took a moral stand! Us! The peddler of a chemical scent whose sole purpose is to deceive people into sexual relations. Ha!” — Chanel
Looking for easy hypocrisy? Give to charity. Great Cheaters are some of the biggest contributors to local and national causes, and they often start their own, like Oprah’s Angel Network, Bono’s One Campaign, and Ken Lay’s “Seriously, I’m not dead—I’m just hiding, but I’m running out of food” Foundation. These groups don’t exist just to get tax breaks, nor are they always sham fronts to hide profits. Sometimes they simply work to get local communities to blindly love and forgive you, whether you’re a corporate crook, an athlete with too much money, a movie star with guilt, or a retired lobbyist. A well-funded anti-cleft palates organization can help others turn the other cheek.
“He seemed like such a nice guy. Always helping out around the neighborhood. Quiet, kept to himself. I never thought they’d find so many bodies in his basement.”—Neighbors reacting to news of a serial killer and/or cheater living next door
Spin, Baby, Spin
You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, and that’s all you need to Get Rich Cheating.
Even though everything you’ve done up to this point is, in totality, positive—at least for you—some might not get the big picture. So, like the Great Cheaters, twist and turn your bad deeds into good things. It’s possible to see events in many different ways: Ford either “lost an astounding $4 billion” or “kept their losses under $10 billion.” Enron either “stole” or “arbitraged.”
It’s all a matter of perspective. Look at something, decide what you want it to mean, then unleash a tangled web of words and imagery to lead your audience to that conclusion. The Great Cheater knows that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, only bad publicists. Omit certain facts, emphasize others, and always remain vague, obscure, and confusing. Good spinmeisters—be they spokesmen, publicists, or members of the corporate PR department—can take your foot out of your mouth and place it on the road to riches.
Spinning is the art of making something bad into something good and lucrative. To enhance their humanity and earning power, cheating celebrities (or their publicists) spin a drunken binge into dehydration, reckless driving and child endangerment into sleepless empathy with the victims of (insert most recent natural disaster), underage sex and child porn into “research for a book,” anti-Semitism into alcoholism, racism into alcoholism, and, oddly, alcoholism into prescription painkiller addiction.
“Cozy” apartments, a “people person,” “youthful indiscretions,” “girls being girls.” These are just some impressive everyday spin jobs. Other Great Cheater spin:
• For centuries, the White House spokesperson has helped ordinary people accept everything from the public health benefits of global warming (Dana Perino) to the really long nap Lincoln took after a show at the Ford Theater (Lincoln’s press secretary).
• Ari Fleischer, Scott McClellan, Perino, Mike McCurry, and that guy from the movie Thank You for Smoking are among the great propagandists of our time, able to make trillions flow with the tip of their tongues. McClellan admitted his job was to deceive, twist, distort, and enable2. He did a good job.
• After Hurricane Katrina, President Bush touted economic recovery while speaking to disaster relief workers in North Carolina. Yes, business was booming for the catastrophe industry, but that’s like saying the Detroit Lions are a success to people who sell the letter “L.”
• You’re not “avoiding taxes”; you’re “increasing tax competitiveness.”
• You’re not “cutting jobs”; you’re just “lowering the retirement age (to now).”
• You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
• You’re just expanding the limits of America’s knowledge.
• Don’t stifle innovation!
• “Hey! No one at GM has committed mass murder this week!”
Is your nose growing? Can you sell me the Brooklyn Bridge? Are your pants on fire? If so, you’ve got the spinning chops of a Great Cheater.
If you’ve got a bad image—and by now you should deserve one—counter it with aggressive public relations (beyond just taking a picture of some cancer kids playing with kittens).
Timing counts. Pepsi hired an Indian CEO when it was facing public relations nightmares in her home country. Walmart, in the midst of the nation’s largest sex discrimination suit, set up a $25 million fund to support women-owned businesses.
Walmart is a great example. They’ve got a political consulting group to counter their bad image. Civil Rights leader Andrew Young was the public face for a while, which prompted MLK Jr. and Rosa Parks to turn underground 360s. Rumor has it that the company’s first move will be to jump around on Oprah’s couch, telling everyone how much it loves fair labor standards. Next, an attack ad by Swift Mobile Home Veterans for Truth: “Anti-Walmart activists helped fund bin Laden.” Then they’ll announce that rival Kmart has yellowcake uranium and attack JCPenney.
That’s not entirely true, but you believed it for a minute, right? That’s the beauty of good PR. If Walmart can have a PR campaign, you’d better have one too.
Distract and Destroy
Are people catching on to your schemes, seeking information, asking questions about your activities, wondering where you got those dead bodies? Well, as the good PR man knows, if something goes wrong, change the subject. Politicians do it all the time. Think anyone really cares about gay marriage, abortion, flag-burning, or the spotted owl? No, but these issues shift focus away from rampant corruption and ineffective leadership. In business, look to Sony BMG who, when rocked by a payola scandal, simply arrested a bunch of thirteen-year-olds for downloading music.
This is the public we’re talking about. They’ve got the attention span of a gnat on Red Bull. You get in trouble, show ’em something that sparkles. Here are some surefire distractions to save your behind:
• Adopt a peculiar physical attribute and news reports will waste words and space on it. The guy with the hook hand, limp, and horns did, um … he’s got a hook hand, limp, and horns!
• If you’re a woman, even better. Every report will focus on your clothes first, accessories second, hair and makeup third, and evil misdeeds in a footnote3.
• “Sure, there’s $3 billion unaccounted for, but 24 jumped the shark, and can you believe (young person) got knocked off American Idol?”
1. James B. Stewart, “The Birthday Party,” The New Yorker, February 11, 2008.
2. McClellan was later on the receiving end of the White House spin machine. He did dish it; he should be able to take it.
3. If there’s room for it, White Oprah.