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Wall Street Journal: Corporate Relations

by Carl BialikWall Street Journal
August 31st, 2004

Pratap Chatterjee's cameraman spots his prey: two well-dressed men sitting on a bench, eating ice cream by the Brooklyn waterfront. Mr. Chatterjee pounces. He approaches the men and convinces them to do a quick television interview.

Mr. Chatterjee and his cameraman, Jesse Zook Mann, are roving the convention-party scene in New York, looking to interview delegates and businessmen. But they aren't members of the mainstream news media. They are gathering information for activist groups that seek to expose close ties between industry and government. Mr. Chatterjee - age 40, a former Financial Times reporter -- produces TV, radio and Web reports for Corpwatch and Democracy Now.

On this warm evening, he is at a party hosted by the American Gas Association and its members in honor of New Mexico Senator Pete V. Domenici, chairman of the Senate committee on energy and natural resources. His interviewees are part of the New Mexico delegation: alternate Lupe Garcia, who owns a tire business in Santa Cruz, and delegate Rick Lopez, who works for the Agriculture Department's Farm Service Agency.

Mr. Chatterjee's conservative attire and disarming style -- he helpfully points out that Mr. Garcia's cone was dripping -- put Messrs. Garcia and Lopez at ease. As they work on their ice cream, they express admiration for President Bush and for Mr. Domenici, and are frank about the lobbying goals of the gas industry. "They're doing their work," says Mr. Garcia. "You can't blame them."

This isn't exactly gotcha journalism -- many people would argue that industry and government should work together closely -- but evidence of that chumminess is just what Mr. Chatterjee was hoping to find. He has found the same at other parties in New York, and in Boston last month at the Democratic convention. "I'm not trying simply to convert the left, but to convince skeptics and middle America that there is an agenda at play here," he says.




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