I caught up with one of my favourite people in the world, Andrew Lawton from True North, in Davos, Switzerland, where he, much like us, is here covering the World Economic Forum.
Andrew's here not just leading the charge for True North, but he's actually accredited, they actually let him beyond their gates and into some of the private areas. Not into everything, but into plays where rebellious Rebels can't go, so I asked him what that experience on the inside has been like.
“You know what, I've actually already been converted,” Andrew jokingly tells me. “I had my daily dose of crickets, I did the morning mindfulness meditation, and I have decided to use only lab-grown meat right now, it's been delightful in there.”
Setting aside the sarcasm, Andrew says that the WEF's annual summit “has all of the hallmarks of a normal conference.” What makes the Davos get-together so unique according to Andrew's insider experience, is that the chatting and greeting of old friends is all between “corporate leaders and heads of government and heads of state.”
While much of the WEF's panel discussions are posted online, Andrew points out how there are also side rooms for bilateral or multilateral negotiations, ones that are away from the public record.
“Normally at a multilateral summit, there's an order of things: you have other journalists that are there to cover it,” Andrew explains. “Here, there's no record of these meetings existing, and really, my belief is that this is the largest cash for access fundraiser in the world for politicians.”
He raises a good point. Andrew applied to get in, and I'm certain it was a nominal fee to do so.
But to get one of these pavilions, which amounts to sponsorship status — like the BlackRock one that I tried to explore earlier this week or the CNBC one where a vice president said Avi Yemini should be punched out. That's hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of dollars.
In a way, it's a kind of money-laundering operation that they don't have to disclose. Almost as if they were making a donation to the Liberal Party of Canada or the Democratic Party in the United States.
Andrew points to the case of Bill Browder, an activist opposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine and someone who has been to Davos in the past. Browder recently tweeted that the WEF was asking him for $250,000 to participate.
He also says that a lot of the companies attending pay fees to be members of the WEF, but that it doesn't include attendance at organization's signature event.
“They pay an annual membership fee, that doesn't even include attendance, which runs up to $650,000 a year,” Andrew says. “Now, politicians are here for free, they don't actually pay to be here.”
In other words, they're what's being sold, what's being rented out.
“Absolutely,” Andrew replies. “Why would you drop a million dollars as the president and CEO of a company to be here if not because you were getting something out of that? And it's not advertising, because so much of this is behind closed doors and is to a very niche audience. It is because you're getting access.”
As one of the few independent-minded journalists with this access behind the velvet rope, I wanted to know if Andrew could feel a sense of peer pressure in exclusive areas. After all, we saw how powerful peer pressure could be during the COVID-19 lockdowns and mandates.
I wondered if that was part of the appeal of coming to Davos, to create a community of repeaters of the official narrative, to build more disciples for king Klaus Schwab.
“I think so,” Andrew says, describing everyone as very friendly and kind, but points out that “there's a package of rules that journalists have to abide by, nothing to do with content it's more about behaviour and where you can be and what hours.”
This setup creates a balance, where Andrew says he has to weigh his options on when it's time to press someone, like his recent encounter with Deputy Prime Minister and WEF board member Chrystia Freeland.
“I could very easily see how journalists would say, you know, I kind of liked that cocktail party with the Hollywood actor Idris Elba, you know I kind of like the juice bar, I kind of like that and maybe I don't want to rock the boat,” he says.
“I said I would come here, do the same work I did outside [last year when he accompanied our Rebel News team], and if something happens to my accreditation in the future, so be it.”
So while Andrew performs his work from the belly of the beast, we Rebels will continue our important work on the outside. If you want to see all of our coverage from Davos, visit WEFReports.com. And if you feel compelled to help offset our economy-class travel and accommodation fees, you can help fund our citizen journalism there too.