Chamber Rejects Use of Term “3 Million Members”

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For the first time, the US Chamber of Commerce has admitted that its membership should be reported at one tenth the size that many major media outlets have listed it for more than a decade.

In an interview on Friday, Greg Marx of the Columbia Journalism Review asked Chamber spokesman Eric Wohlschlegel to comment on two competing newspaper accounts. Presented with a Wall Street Journal article that said the Chamber claims “300,000 members,” Wohlschlegel said, “That’s accurate.” Read an Associated Press article that said the Chamber claims “a membership of 3 million,” he responded, “That’s not exactly reported correctly.”

The second statement appears to be a reversal for Wohlschlegel, who, in September, told the New York Times: “We have over 3 million members.”

Last week, after Mother Jones first questioned the accuracy of the Chamber’s claim to represent “3 million members,” the group backed off the number in public statements. It then sought to distinguish between the meaning of two figures and argued that it has long used both in the proper context. Yesterday a Chamber representative acknowledged that the 3 million number often gets reported “without qualification.” And yet today is the first time the Chamber has publicly characterized the reporting of the larger membership figure as inaccurate.

The Chamber’s response to the controversy, which has been reported in the Washington Post, Politico, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Harper’s, MSNBC, and numerous blogs, appears aimed at shifting blame for the inflated membership number to journalists. The Chamber’s website claims that it “represents” 3 million businesses, which is not the same thing as calling them members. That the 3 million number gets reported out of context “is hardly our fault,” Chamber representative Brad Peck told E&E News this week.

At the same time, the Chamber has resisted doing anything more to explain its true size on its website or press releases. Neither source cites the Chamber’s true membership number or explains what the group means when it says it “represents” 3 million businesses. Maybe the Chamber thinks the media is lazy or gullible enough to continue exponentially inflating its size. And some in the media may well be, as Marx diligently reveals in a solid piece of reporting.  

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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