While still a law professor in the 1990s, Elizabeth Warren moderated a pair of public television discussions on corporate America that involved her acting out scenarios such as an imaginary CEO fighting for a pay raise and how to pull off exporting American jobs.
Warren took part in two of eight "On The Issues" episodes in 1993 and 1994, underwritten by global professional services firm Price Waterhouse. They sought to "provide a forum for exploring ethical challenges and equitable solutions" for companies facing problems that "test their integrity, fairness, and adaptability."
She asked questions and enthusiastically acted out roles in hypothetical scenarios that could face board rooms at the time—such as a corporate executive haggling for a salary bump or deciding whether to ship domestic jobs to Korea—demonstrating some of the showmanship she has as a 2020 presidential candidate on the trail today.
She also debates a union representative about whether the effects of unionization would result in fewer skilled workers being allowed to stay on during layoffs.
Prominent executives, activists, academics, politicians and journalists participated in "On The Issues," at times role-playing alongside Warren. In addition to the business aspect of their corporate strategy, they debate the moral implications of their decision-making.
In a 1993 episode entitled "Battles in the Boardoom," Warren pretends her panel is the Board of Directors for "Luminous Unlimited," one of the "new, top computer companies in the country." The first segment on "Executive Compensation" had Warren playing "Michelle Elizabeth Newman," an experienced, dynamic corporate executive who had been hired to be the new CEO.
Warren haggles with board members about what her salary will be, saying she makes $1.5 million a year already at "MegaCom" as its number three executive. If she takes a pay decrease at the new company, she'll be labeled a "loser" and it will seem like Luminous Unlimited only hires "rejects."
"I just want the cash," she says.
At another point, a board member notes she could follow in the footsteps of Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who accepted stock options in lieu of cash and became fabulously wealthy when he raised the company's value.
"Oh, I would like to put myself in that position," Warren says as "Michelle."
In another section, she plays the current, aging CEO, "Larry," makes pretend phone calls and even acts out berating a board member for screwing up the company.
Again as "Michelle," Warren later pitches the board on shipping 14,000 manufacturing jobs "to Korea" to boost profits, the company's stock prices, and by extension, her compensation as CEO.
In another 1994 episode called "Job Today, Gone Tomorrow," Warren moderates a discussion on the implications of corporate downsizing, how layoffs impact workers, and the role of unions, among other topics. One of the participants is U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who served under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997.
After discussing how a fictitious company called "Heartland Industries" will handle laying off 15 percent of its workforce, Warren creates a scenario where two of the plants at "Heartland Industries" have unionized and another round of layoffs needs to occur.
"Now that they're unionized, how will the workforce cuts be different?" she asks.
United Steelworkers President George Becker said, before unionization, Heartland would have picked the "least productive" people to fire, or perhaps the oldest, feeblest, or those on the verge of retirement.
"So the older workers and the less productive workers get to stay?" Warren asks.
Becker protests she's making an assumption, but he ultimately admits that productivity is "irrelevant" in deciding who gets laid off.
In a statement, Warren communications director Kristen Orthman told the Free Beacon "her role was guiding the assigned fictitious scenario, not presenting views."
"On The Issues" was a limited run docuseries on PBS hosted by former NBC news commentator John Chancellor," she said. "The show focused on "tough issues facing American business." As one of the nation's experts in business law, Warren was one of a number of prominent people who participated in it. The guests – which ranged from professors to union leaders to CEOs – role play tough business situations. Warren moderated two "On The Issues" episodes that focused on the financial tradeoffs businesses faced and took the panelists through various scenarios to role play."
"Warren’s panels included guests from every part of the political spectrum, including Labor Secretary Robert Reich, a sitting member of Congress, union leaders, professors, and reporters from major newspapers. The ACLU’s president appeared on "On The Issues." The suggestion that these discussions represented Senator Warren's personal or professional views is incorrect and inaccurate as it's expressly disclaimed in the videos themselves. Her role was guiding the assigned fictitious scenario, not presenting views. "
At the time of the two videos, Warren was a registered Republican in Pennsylvania. She said she used to support the GOP "because I really thought that it was a party that was principled in its conservative approach to economics and to markets," but she became a Democrat in 1996.
Then-Price Waterhouse chairman Shaun O'Malley told "On The Issues" host John Chancellor that the company underwrote the project to bring the issues facing corporate America to people's attention.
"To get this discussion out in the open, so that a lot more people can understand that these business issues, the ethical issues that they face, are not up-and-down, yes-or-no issues, that they're very complex issues," he said. "From a Price Waterhouse standpoint, we're a firm that's built on integrity and independence and objectivity, and this just seemed like the right thing for us to do at this time."
Warren is trying to differentiate herself in a crowded primary field by hammering home a message that Washington is rigged by a corrupt elite against the middle and working classes. First elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012, she is known for her fiery rhetoric against Wall Street and big banks, and she focused on bankruptcy law throughout her career in academics.
She pushed for the eventual creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2011 following the 2008 financial crisis.