My older readers will know that my dad was President of Exxon from the early 70’s (a few weeks before the Arab oil embargo) until the late 1980’s. In that job he never had to do analyst calls, but he did about 15 annual shareholders meetings. I don’t know how they run today but in those days any shareholder with a question or a rant could line up and fire away. Every person with a legitimate beef, every vocal person who hated oil companies and were pissed off about oil prices, every conspiracy theorist convinced Exxon was secretly formulating chemtrail material or whatever, and every outright crazy would buy one share of stock and show up to have their moment on stage. My dad probably fantasized about how awesome it would be to just get asked dry financial questions about cash flow. And through all the nuts and crazy questions and outright accusations that he was the most evil person on the planet, dad kept his cool and never once lost it.
If you asked him about it, he likely would not have talked about it. Dad — who grew up dirt poor with polio in rural Depression Iowa — was from that generation that really did not talk about their personal adversity much and certainly did not compete for victim status. He probably would just have joked that the loonies at the shareholder meeting were nothing compared to Congress. My favorite story was that Scoop Jackson once called him to testify in the Senate twice in 6 months or so. The first time, just before the embargo, he was trying to save the Alaska pipeline project and Jackson accused Exxon of being greedy and trying to produce more oil than was needed. The second time was just after the embargo, and Jackson accused Exxon of being greedy and hiding oil offshore in tankers to make sure the world had less oil than it needed.
Good old Scoop. Remember when he was the sane Democrat?
Through all of this, the only time I ever saw him really mad was when Johnny Carson made a joke about killing the president of Exxon (he asked his audience to raise their hands if they thought they would actually get convicted for killing the president of Exxon) and over the next several days our family received hundreds of death threats. These had to be treated fairly credibly at the time because terrorists were frequently attacking, kidnapping, and bombing oil company executives and their families. We had friends whose housekeeper’s hand was blown off by a letter bomb, and I was not able to travel outside of the country for many years for fear of kidnapping. (For Firefly fans, if you remember the scene of Mal always cutting his apples because he feared bombs in them from a old war experience, you might recognize how, to this day, I still open packages slowly and carefully.)
And that was during the Age of Carson, a largely apolitical comedian — yet the nitwits spun their way out of the woodwork with frightening speed. Today, no thanks to the current corps of synthetically edgy talkers and their reinforcement from the echo chambers of social media, there is no longer any such thing as a rhetorical question; it’s always a cry for a rally.