Pundit Pattons

And yet Freeport has been given a free ride in much of our elite press, even as riots have propelled Indonsesia to the front pages. Since Suharto's fall in May, both the Times and the Washington Post have devoted only a single passing reference to the company.

Indonesia briefly captured the media's imagination in 1996, amid allegations that the country's oligarchy had sought to curry favor with the White House—via massive illicit contributions from the wealthy Riady family's Lippo Group to the DNC. But in an excellent November 1996 two-part series, the Journal of Commerce's Tim Shorrock showed that Freeport and other U.S. corporations with Indonesian interests were far more able agents of political influence than their Indonesian counterparts. Freeport was the first U.S. company to set up shop in Indonesia and, with the government, it now runs the world's largest gold mine and third largest copper mine, both located in army-occupied Irian Jaya.

Freeport's CEO, James "Jim Bob" Moffett, was a golfing partner of Suharto's, while one of the men who gave Suharto the green light to embark on the murderous conquest of East Timor—Henry Kissinger—sits on Freeport's board. So, too, does J. Bennett Johnston, who, while a Louisiana senator, made sure Congress did little to impede the flow of arms to Jim Bob's despotic putting-green partner. The company has also doled out well over $1 million in campaign contributions to both parties since 1980.

Despite Jim Bob's long public affiliation with Suharto, the Singapore Business Times reported earlier this year that Freeport McMoRan "categorically denied any association with former president Suharto," and that reports "accusing the company of links through collusion and nepotism to the former first family were untrue." Last month, however, the Wall Street Journal's Peter Waldman described Freeport's Indonesian operations as "a study in how multinational companies adapted to the crony capitalism" that was a hallmark of the Suharto era. And in the September 7/14 issue of The Nation, Robert Bryce reported on two unique loan arrangements between Freeport and Indonesian companies—one belonging to Suharto's labor minister, the other involving Suharto and longtime crony Bob Hasan.

The Jakarta Post and other regional papers have been carrying regular news about recent Habibie government investigations, however modest, into the Freeport-Suharto connection. The Indonesian Observer, for example, reported on November 18 that "the wealth of Suharto's cronies in Irian Jaya is believed to be mostly invested in enterprises serving as contractors to... Freeport." Cited as exhibit A: Bob Hasan, who "apparently held a virtual monopoly on the supply of food" to Freeport's 28¢-an-hour workers.

Meanwhile, Livingston has taken thousands of dollars from Freeport in recent years. In 1995, Freeport used its Washington juice—Kissinger, ex–CIA director James Woolsey, and others—to get its political risk insurance policy reinstated, after the policy had been axed because of the company's "substantial adverse environmental impacts" in Irian Jaya. Now Indonesian activists are asking what Freeport will get from Livingston—even if U.S. media aren't.


  • Monicagate media peer pressure at work? From a Saturday Washington Post story on Clinton in Korea: "When a reporter at the Obuchi appearance asked about North Korea's missile program, some colleagues listening at the White House's traveling press center groaned in disappointment." The reporters were hoping for a question about Ken

  • From the evidence of her Monday preview, the Times's Caryn James enjoyed David Letterman's fifth anniversary special. Still, it seems someone at the Times didn't: on the TV sked, three pages later, Letterman's 9:30 time slot is preempted by "Becker: Becker tries to avoid the subject of sex."

    Research: Jeff Gamble

  • « Previous Page