GM defends CEO Mary Barra ahead of meeting with Black media leaders

Newspaper ads spark war of words for automaker

General Motors CEO Mary Barra will meet with a group of seven Black-owned media leaders on Thursday following charges of racism against the automotive executive.

The group of executives published a full-page ad in the Detroit Free Press on Sunday, calling Barra racist for allegedly refusing to take a meeting with them.

"We were seriously offended watching you stand on stage, after the death of George Floyd, saying, "Black Lives Matter," when you have refused to acknowledge us and you have consistently, over time and after multiple requests, refused to take a meeting with the largest Black Owned Media companies in America," the open letter reads. "Mary, the very definition of systemic racism is when you are ignored, excluded and you don't have true economic inclusion."

In addition, the executives claim that General Motors spends less than 0.5% of its advertising dollars on Black-owned media.

Among those who signed the letter are Byron Allen, CEO of Entertainment Studios and owner of The Weather Channel, Earl ‘Butch’ Graves, president and CEO of Black Enterprise, and former NBA all-star, Junior Bridgeman, head of Ebony Media.

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GM spokesperson Patrick Morrissey told FOX Business on Wednesday that Barra "never declined" to have a meeting with the Black media owners, and denied the allegations laid out against her and the company in the letter.

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"We are proud of our relationship with Black-owned media partners, including our existing commercial relationship with Mr. Allen," Morrissey said. "We have stated our aspiration to be the most inclusive company in the world and have taken many concrete steps to advance that goal."

Morrissey noted that the automaker has increased its spending in Black-owned media by 100% from 2020 to 2021 and that it plans to "grow from there" and continue its efforts.

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Allen told the Detroit Free Press that he and the other signatories had been reaching out to Barra to set up a meeting for the past five years but repeatedly received no response. About two weeks ago, the group reportedly sent an email again, but instead of Barra, GM's Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl responded saying she would meet with the executives.

Allen and several other signatories of the letter met with Wahl for a preliminary discussion on Monday, which was later described as "constructive". As a result, the parties proceeded to set up a follow-up meeting with Barra for Thursday.

The one-time stand-up comic turned media mogul said that he and the other signatories are looking forward to Thursday's meeting, calling it "long overdue."

"We hope that we can finally get something done where we have meaningful economic inclusion for Black-owned media,” he said.

While he believes Barra has the opportunity to do something “transformative in corporate America,” he argued the meeting came to fruition mainly because of the "enormous press around the ad.”

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In addition to the Detroit Free Press, advertisements of the letter have also been run in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the Michigan Chronicle.

"We are disappointed that Mr. Allen and his fellow signatories resorted to additional paid media advertising to advance a narrative of factual inaccuracies and character assault against our CEO, Mary Barra," Morrissey said. "It is particularly perplexing given that the paid advertising appears after the GM team has had repeated meetings with Mr. Allen and his team, and after we had scheduled a meeting between the signatories and Ms. Barra."

GM also re-affirmed that a meeting with Barra was in the works, but pushed back against Allen's claim that it was influenced by the ad.

"As we have maintained all along, the meeting with Ms. Barra was always on the table once Mr. Allen invested in a brief discussion with our CMO to correct factual inaccuracies and to scope the request from Mr. Allen and the signatories, which varied wildly from day to day," Morrissey stated, "It appears that Mr. Allen’s preference is to continue making his contentions in the media."

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General Motors is not the only brand that has faced scrutiny from Allen, according to Ad Age.

In addition to GM, Allen has also called out Coca-Cola for having a poor track record of working with Black-owned media and companies. Coca-Cola did not immediately return FOX Business' request for comment.

Allen reportedly sent letters of intent to a series of brands and their agencies earlier this month, calling on them to shift a minimum of 2% of their budgets to Black-owned media or face legal action.

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In 2015, Allen filed a $20 billion lawsuit against Comcast about racial bias against channels owned by African Americans. However, that lawsuit was withdrawn and settled out of court last year, though Comcast denies the allegations, according to Reuters.

This story was first reported by the Detroit Free Press.