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Number 1 Shimbun


NUMBER 1 SHIMBUN 2019 (98)

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More journalists killed on the job in 2018

By Elana Beiser


THE NUMBER OF JOURNALISTS targeted for murder in reprisal for their reporting nearly doubled in 2018 from a year earlier, driving up the overall count of journalists killed on the job. At least 53 journalists were killed around the world between Jan. 1 and Dec. 14, 2018, of whom at least 34 were singled out for murder. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists tracks three types of journalists’ deaths on the job: reprisal murders; deaths in combat or crossfire (11 last year, the lowest since 2011); and deaths on other dangerous assignments, such as covering protests that turn violent (eight last year). The total is up from 47 killed in all of last year, of whom 18 were pinpointed for murder. A total of 50 were killed in 2016.

The recent uptick in killings follows two years of decline, but comes as the jailing of journalists hits a sustained high – adding up to a profound global crisis of press freedom. The context for the crisis is varied and complex, and closely tied to changes in technology that have allowed more people to practice journalism even as it has made journalists expendable to the political and criminal groups who once needed the news media to spread their message.

ANOTHER SIGNIFICANT FACTOR IS a lack of international leadership on journalists’ rights and safety. The most illustrative case is the brazen murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in October by Saudi agents. Khashoggi had been strongly critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Ironically, the most vocal head of state in Khashoggi’s case has been Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose government has effectively shut down the independent media and is jailing more journalists than any other around the world for the third consecutive year.

The White House, traditionally a strong defender of global press freedom, equivocated on the blame for Khashoggi’s murder despite, according to the Post, CIA conclusions that only the crown prince could have ordered such an operation. President Trump essentially signaled that countries that do enough business with the United States are free to murder journalists without consequence.

The state of Maryland was the site of the deadliest single attack on the media in recent U.S. history. On June 28, a gunman entered the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in the city of Annapolis and shot dead four journalists and a sales associate. The alleged killer, Jarrod Ramos, had issued repeated threats to the paper after a defamation lawsuit he filed against it in 2012 failed. Ramos faces five counts of first-degree murder and other charges, and is scheduled to go on trial June 3, 2019, according to the Capital Gazette. The day after the massacre, Trump told reporters, “Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.” But within days, he had resumed his characteristic attacks on the press, calling the media “fake news” and journalists “enemies of the people” on social media and at rallies.

TRUMP’S BROADSIDES CAME AS the European Union grapples with its own crisis of journalist safety. Ján Kuciak, a 27-year-old investigative reporter looking into corruption in Slovakia who was shot dead alongside his fiancée in February, was the second journalist murdered for his work in the bloc after Malta’s Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a bomb placed on her car in October 2017. 

The deadliest country for journalists in 2018, Afghanistan, is a mainstay on CPJ’s annual global Impunity Index, which spotlights places where journalists are regularly murdered and their killers go free. The 13 journalists killed in Afghanistan in 2018 were the most in any year since CPJ began keeping track – including 2001, when the U.S. attacked the country and nine journalists were killed.

Journalists continue to die working in other war-torn countries, such as Syria and Yemen, but the number of journalists killed in combat or crossfire fell to its lowest since 2011, as journalists’ access is diminished or the risks become too grave to bear, leading to self-censorship, exile, or abandoning the work. In Syria, at least nine journalists were killed in 2018, compared with a high of 31 in 2012. In Yemen, three journalists were killed in 2018, and in Iraq, CPJ has not confirmed that any journalists were killed because of their work for the first time since 2012. Elsewhere in the Middle East, two Palestinian journalists were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers while covering protests in the Gaza strip.

Other findings from CPJ’s research:
• Three women were killed, compared with eight in 2017. Historically, about 7 percent of journalists killed are women.
• Political groups, which includes extremists like Islamic State, were the most frequent suspected perpetrators, in 53 percent of cases.
• Politics was the most dangerous beat, covered by 62 percent of journalists killed.
• Broadcast reporter was the most dangerous job. ❶

Elana Beiser
is editorial director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.


New Members - January 2019


Susumu Arai, The Yomiuri Shimbun

Michio Hayashi, The Yomiuri Shimbun



Yoshihiro Hombo, Mitsui & Co.

Hiroyuki Kato, Mitsui & Co.

Yasuro Koizumi, FiNC, Inc.

Shinobu Nakagawa, Fearnleys Japan, Ltd.

Masao Nishikawa, Sekisei Co., Ltd.

Inketsu Okina, Darwin Co., Ltd.

Akihiko Sakurai, Seika Corporation

Motonori Sakai, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean AS

Yosuke Kano, Element HRC Ltd.

Toru Nishiyama, Maersk Line A/S

Mamoru Sakamoto, Itsumo.Inc



13 1 Arai

SUSUMU ARAI, is, since June 2018, manager for international affairs at the Yomiuri Shimbun. He joined the newspaper in 1991, and has been posted as a correspondent to New Delhi, Sydney, Islamabad and Phnom Penh. His prior position was deputy editor of the Japan News, the English newspaper published by the Yomiuri Shimbun.


13 2 Hayashi

MICHIO HAYASHI is a senior research fellow at the Yomiuri Institute, the think-tank of the Yomiuri Shimbun company. His coverage area centers around international/defense issues. Hayashi joined the Yomiuri Shimbun in 1987 and spent half of his career as a correspondent overseas. His postings included New Delhi, Washington D.C., Brussels, Paris and London. He later held posts on the editorial board of the Yomiuri Shimbun, and as managing editor of the Japan News.


New in the Library (January 2019)


13 3 Year
My Year of Dirt and Water : Journal of a Zen Monk’s Wife in Japan
Tracy Franz
Stone Bridge Press


Japanese Contemporary Politics
Akio Igarashi; Mark E. Caprio and Miranda Schreurs (ed.)
Gift from Akio Igarashi


13 4 Paz Japonica
Pax Japonica: the Resurrection of Japan 
Takeo Harada 
LID Publishing
Gift from Daniel Slater


Make It Happen!: Japanese Companies Need To Elevate Marketing As A Core Function To Succeed Outside Japan 
Robert E. Peterson
Gift from Daniel Slater


In Memoriam: Remembering Jack Spillum

12 1 In Memoriam

THE FCCJ LOST JACK SPILLUM, an Associate Member for 51 years, on Nov. 23 in Tokyo. He was 83. A memorial gathering held on Nov. 30 to celebrate his life drew 50-plus friends to a standing-room only reception, an indication of Jack’s popularity.

John David “Jack” Spillum was born Oct. 29, 1935 and raised in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He arrived in Asia as a radio announcer with U.S. Armed Services Network in South Korea just after the Korean conflict.

Jack came to Tokyo in 1957 and never left. He joined the FCCJ in 1967, where he was a colorful and popular personality, perhaps best known among members for calling bingo numbers. “Jack was a great Emcee,” said Sandra Mori, who has long been associated with Club entertainment. “No one could match him for his ready wit and lightning reactions. Always funny and good-natured, he was a pro.”

“I got to know Jack almost immediately after arriving in Tokyo in 1977,” says Bradley K. Martin, a long-time friend. “He was hard to miss: a very funny man, cutting a wide swath as he ambled through the Main Bar, stopping at tables here and there to crack wise. We had a running gag about his state of origin. I would always introduce him as a South Dakotan. Jack would simulate outrage. He was a North Dakotan, 
damn it!”

At one time, Jack was a pioneering foreign stockbroker with Sanyo Securities. “He was a major force in introducing the Japanese market to foreigners,” says Martin. “Not only gaijin investors but correspondents, like me. After I went to work for the Asian Wall Street Journal in 1983, it was good to have a real expert like Jack to explain things and introduce me to financial industry colleagues.”

Jack left the securities business and went on to other pursuits, including investment banking, head hunting and the cedar-home business. He sold one of these to friend and fellow Club member Bob Neff, then with Businesss Week magazine, who wrote about the experience in the publication in June 1993. Later still, Jack had a prized gig teaching English to top-level Japanese business people.

Jack had a very rough time with illness in his latter days. He was stricken by Parkinson’s Disease and its associated illnesses. “One of my great regrets has been that when I tried to visit him some months ago word came back that he was not up to receiving me,” says Martin. “Thinking about that now, I wonder if he was trying to ensure that I’d remember the healthy, jolly, larger-than-life Jack.” Other friends at the reception made similar observations.

Jack’s son, Jack Spillum Jr., also attended and paid a tribute to his late father, with a hilarious anecdote about their last time together in New York. “With eyes closed, you could imagine it was Jack Sr. at the mike,” said Bob Kirschenbaum, president of Pacific Press Service. “His dad would have been proud.”

• Geoff Tudor


12 2 In Memoriam

Geoff Tudor and Mehdi Bassiri at the well-attended Memorial Night at the Club


12 3 In Memoriam

Jack in charge of a bingo night in 2005.


Exhibition: Year of the Boar

The Year of the Boar 
Illustration Group Exhibition
Curated by Niya Niya Studio

NIYA NIYA STUDIO WAS founded in Kamakura, Japan in 2017 by artists and designers Tada Kono and Yura Osborn. After working in the creative field in Los Angeles and New York, they have relocated to Kamakura where they started their design studio. They hope to make everyone smile with their artwork.


11 1 Exhibition

by Sander Studio


11 2 Exhibition

by Motoko Matsuda

Join the Film Committee. . .


10 Film


. . . on Tues., Jan. 15 at 7:00 pm for the acclaimed feature debut of Nanako Hirose, His Lost Name. Like her mentor, Cannes Palm d’Or winner Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hirose takes her time with her storytelling, and revelations do not arrive until long after the film’s opening scenes. A troubled young man (Yuya Yagira, winner of the Best Actor award at Cannes for Kore-eda’s Nobody Knows) is rescued from an apparent suicide attempt by taciturn widower Tetsuro (Kaoru Kobayashi of Midnight Diner), who gives him a place to stay, a job and most importantly, a sympathetic shoulder. But it’s soon clear that the young man isn’t the only one haunted by his past. Hirose will join us for the Q&A session after the screening.
(Japan, 2019; 113 minutes; in Japanese with English subtitles.)

• Karen Severns


Last month in photos


09 1 Member Photos

Christmas slips away
A diver dressed as Santa Claus swims with a moray eel in the Sunshine Aquarium, Tokyo
by Yoshikazu Tsuno


09 3 Member Photos

Season’s leavings
Fallen gingko leaves
by Stirling Elmendorf


09 2 Member Photos

New Year greetings 

A Shinto priest plays the Sho during the year-end ceremony at Kanda Myoujin Shrine in Tokyo, 
for the start of 2017
by Katsumi Kasahara/


New technology and the fake news battlefront

08 Real Fake

The Wall Street Journal is preparing its journalists to detect deepfakes, a job that is increasingly difficult thanks to advances in AI

By Francesco Marconi 
and Till Daldrup

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IS FUELING the next phase of misinformation. The new type of synthetic media known as deepfakes poses major challenges for newsrooms when it comes to verification.

The Wall Street Journal is taking this threat seriously and has launched an internal deepfakes task force led by the Ethics & Standards and the Research & Development teams. This group, the WSJ Media Forensics Committee, is comprised of video, photo, visuals, research, platform, and news editors who have been trained in deepfake detection. Beyond this core effort, we’re hosting training seminars with reporters, developing newsroom guides, and collaborating with academic institutions such as Cornell Tech to identify ways technology can be used to combat this problem.

“Raising awareness in the newsroom about the latest technology is critical,” said Christine Glancey, a deputy editor on the Ethics & Standards team who spearheaded the forensics committee. “We don’t know where future deepfakes might surface so we want all eyes watching out for disinformation.”

The production of most deepfakes is based on a machine learning technique called “generative adversarial networks,” or GANs. This approach can be used by forgers to swap the faces of two people – for example, those of a politician and an actor. The algorithm looks for instances where both individuals showcase similar expressions and facial positioning, then look for the best matches in the background to juxtapose both faces.

Because research about GANs and other approaches to machine learning is publicly available, the ability to generate deepfakes is spreading. Open source software already enables anyone with some technical knowledge and a powerful-enough graphics card to create a deepfake.


WSJ – from the Nieman Journalism Lab site


DEEPFAKE CREATORS CAN USE a variety of techniques. Faceswap is an algorithm that can seamlessly insert the face of a person into a target video. This technique could be used to place a person’s face on an actor’s body and put them in situations that they were never really in. Forgers can also graft a lip-syncing mouth onto someone else’s face, transfer facial expressions from one person into another video, making them seem disgusted, angry, or surprised – or even transfer the body movements of a person in a source video to a person in a target video.

Journalists have an important role in informing the public about the dangers and challenges of artificial intelligence technology. Reporting on these issues is a way to raise awareness and inform the public.

“There are technical ways to check if the footage has been altered, such as going through it frame by frame in a video editing program to look for any unnatural shapes and added elements, or doing a reverse image search,” said Natalia V. Osipova, a senior video journalist at the Journal. But the best option is often traditional reporting: “Reach out to the source and the subject directly, and use your editorial judgment.”

If someone has sent in suspicious footage, a good first step is to try to contact the source. How did that person obtain it? Where and when was it filmed? Getting as much information as possible, asking for further proof of the claims, and then verifying is key.

If the video is online and the uploader is unknown, other questions are worth exploring: Who allegedly filmed the footage? Who published and shared it, and with whom? Checking the metadata of the video or image with tools like InVID or other metadata viewers can provide answers.

IN ADDITION TO GOING through this process internally, the Journal collaborates with content verification organizations such as Storyful and the Associated Press. This is a fast-moving landscape with emerging solutions appearing regularly in the market. For example, new tools including TruePic and Serelay use blockchain to authenticate photos. Regardless of the technology used, the humans in the newsroom are at the center of the process.

“Technology alone will not solve the problem,” said Rajiv Pant, chief technology officer at the Journal. “The way to combat deepfakes is to augment humans with artificial intelligence tools.”
Deepfakes are often based on footage that is already available online. Reverse image search engines like Tineye or Google Image Search are useful to find possible older versions of the video to suss out whether an aspect of it was manipulated.

Editing programs like Final Cut enable journalists to slow footage down, zoom the image, and look at it frame by frame or pause multiple times. This helps reveal obvious glitches: glimmering and fuzziness around the mouth or face, unnatural lighting or movements, and differences between skin tones are telltale signs of a deepfake.

In addition to these facial details, there might also be small edits in the foreground or background of the footage. Does it seem like an object was inserted or deleted into a scene that might change the context of the video (e.g. a weapon, a symbol, a person, etc.)? Again, glimmering, fuzziness, and unnatural light can be indicators of faked footage.

In the case of audio, listen for unnatural intonation, irregular breathing, metallic sounding voices and obvious edits, all hints that the audio may have been generated by artificial intelligence. However, it’s important to note that image artifacts, glitches, and imperfections can also be introduced by video compression. That’s why it is sometimes hard to conclusively determine whether a video has been forged or not.

A NUMBER OF COMPANIES are creating technologies – often for innocuous reasons – that nonetheless could eventually end up being used to create deepfakes. Adobe is working on Project Cloak, an experimental tool for object removal in video, which makes it easy for users to take people or other details out of the footage. The product could be helpful in motion picture editing. But some experts think that micro-edits like these – the removal of small details in a video – might be even more dangerous than blatant fakes since they are harder to spot.

There are algorithms for image translation that enable the altering of weather or time of day in a video. These could be helpful for post-production of movie scenes shot during days with different weather. But it could be problematic for newsrooms and others, because in order to verify footage and narrow down when videos were filmed, it is common to examine the time of day, weather, position of the sun, and other indicators for clues to inconsistencies.

Audio files can also be manipulated automatically: One company, Lyrebird, creates artificial voices based on audio samples of real people. One minute of audio recordings is enough to generate an entire digital replica that can say any sentence the user types into the system.

While these techniques can be used to significantly lower costs of movie, gaming, and entertainment production, they represent a risk for news media as well as society more broadly. For example, fake videos could place politicians in meetings with foreign agents or even show soldiers committing crimes against civilians. False audio could make it seem like government officials are privately planning attacks against other nations.

“We know deepfakes and other image manipulations are effective and can have immediate repercussions,” said Roy Azoulay, founder and CEO of Serelay, a platform that enables publishers to protect their content against forgeries. “We need to really watch when they become cheap, because cheap and effective drives diffusion.”

Publishing an unverified fake video in a news story could stain a newsroom’s reputation and ultimately lead to the public losing trust in media institutions. Another danger for journalists: personal deepfake attacks showing news professionals in compromising situations or altering facts – again aimed at discrediting or intimidating them.

As deepfakes make their way into social media, their spread will likely follow the same pattern as other fake news stories. In an MIT study investigating the diffusion of false content on Twitter published between 2006 and 2017, researchers found that “falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than truth in all categories of information.” False stories were 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than the truth and reached 1,500 people six times more quickly than accurate articles.

Deepfakes are not going away anytime soon. It’s safe to say that these elaborate forgeries will make verifying media harder, and this challenge could become more difficult over time.
“We have seen this rapid rise in deep learning technology and the question is: Is that going to keep going, or is it plateauing? What’s going to happen next?” said Hany Farid, a photo-forensics expert. “I think that the issues are coming to a head,” he said, adding that the next 18 months leading up to the 2020 election will be crucial.

Despite the current uncertainty, newsrooms can and should follow the evolution of this threat by conducting research, partnering with academic institutions, and training their journalists how to leverage new tools. ❶

Francesco Marconi is R&D chief at the Wall Street Journal. Till Daldrup is a research fellow at the Journal and a master’s candidate at NYU’s Studio 20 journalism program. This article originally appeared on the NiemanLab website and is used with permission.

Stirling Elmendorf

07 1 Cover

By Justin McCurry

Three years surrounded by the bucolic idyll of southeastern Shikoku as a teacher on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program was enough to stir a passion for photography that, 14 years later, has given Stirling Elmendorf a successful career and personal contentment in the heart of the Tokyo megalopolis.

Twelve months into his stay in the town of Kaiyo, Tokushima Prefecture, where he lived in an old house near the beach, the American invested in a digital camera, hopped on his bicycle and let his gift for exquisite composition do the rest. He was immediately hooked, and resolved to take photographs for a living on his return to the US.

Based in his birthplace, Washington D.C., Elmendorf started out shooting for corporate and political clients before focusing on architecture and interior design – a change he attributes to the influence of his photographer mother. Desperate for a change of pace, he relocated to northern California in 2009, dividing his time between the Bay Area and downtown San Francisco.

During a working holiday in Japan, he met Kumiko, now his wife and business partner, whose energy and determination make his photography business a genuinely collaborative venture. “She is absolutely pivotal on the business side of the things,” says Elmendorf, whose pre-opening images of the FCCJ’s new premises feature on the Club’s website. “She’s an incredible organizer, has a great relationship with clients and is great with people. It doesn’t matter what the assignment is, she just says we can do it. She’s a little more aggressive than I am and I guess that rubs off on me.”

That refusal to take no for an answer served the couple well when, soon after they married in the US, they took the plunge and moved to Osaka, Kumiko’s home for the previous 20 years. There were times, though, when they wondered if the relocation had been a huge mistake. “For about the first four months we were eating oatmeal for breakfast and lunch every day because we had so little money and no clients,” Elmendorf recalls with a laugh.

Not to be deterred, they went online and looked up architecture and design offices, targeting those whose websites looked in need of a makeover. “We didn’t make any appointments and literally went door to door. Some people would see this foreign man and a Japanese woman wearing wild makeup and take a step back, but some agreed to chat for a few minutes. So we would sit down and talk, sometimes for hours.”

Elmendorf adopts the same disarming approach towards all of his clients, who now include the likes of Carl Zeiss, Fred Perry, Harry Winston, Bulgari and Rolex. “The one thing that we have never changed is the way we do business,” he says. “Our goal is really simple – to treat everyone in exactly the same way, to be very casual and extremely friendly, but extremely respectful at all times. And we want people to have fun. Our photo shoots are not quiet, heavy affairs.

“The best thing about my job is meeting new people and having the opportunity to make them feel great about the work that they’ve done. We really appreciate that they put their trust in us.”

Elmendorf makes time for an eclectic range of assignments – constant reminders, he says, of why Japan is such a fascinating subject for an architectural photographer. He is as comfortable photographing houses in Nara and family-run factories in Osaka as he is shooting brand-name outlets in Ginza and high-rise office blocks in Marunouchi. “We shoot everything from kindergartens to Bulgari, and everything in between,” he says.

The couple lived in Osaka for five and a half years when they decided that the time had come to move to Tokyo, where many of their clients were located. Eighteen months on, he is refreshingly free of the cynicism that can creep up on some of the city’s longer-term residents.

07 2 Quote

“We’ve only been here for a year and a half so we’re really still in candy store mode, where it’s just fun to be here,” he says. “We’re surprised and delighted to find so much greenery here compared to Osaka. And we’re shocked by how well put-together Tokyo is as a city. It’s very inspiring for both of us. One thing I would love to do is shoot more public buildings, like museums, libraries and schools. That would be really fun.”

Now 43, Elmendorf had a peripatetic upbringing, spending nearly half his life overseas, with periods in Honduras, Ecuador, India, Mozambique, and Rwanda due to his father’s job with the US Agency for International Development. For now, he is happy to explore his Tokyo neighbourhood – by bicycle, of course - and go wherever his assignments take him. He would, though, welcome more time to practice his guitar and indulge a love of sento public baths that blossomed in Osaka.

“My brother and I are really fortunate enough to have grown up in countries that were developing and weren’t fiscally in the same place as somewhere like Japan,” he says. “It really helps you appreciate what you’ve got, how hard people work and how little they have. Not a day goes by that I don’t wake up and think how fortunate I am to live in Tokyo and how much I love it here.” ❶

Justin McCurry is the Japan and Korea correspondent for the Guardian and Observer newspapers in London and reports for the English-language service of France 24 TV.

The savior who fell to earth

06 Carlos

Thoughts on the rise and fall of Nissan’s controversial ex-CEO by his former speechwriter.

By John R. Harris

Carlos Ghosn would scoff at my contention that I wrote “something like 250,000 words he uttered” as his speechwriter from 2005 through 2008. Having once said, “I have a horror of approximation,” he would demand the exact figure. However many, every word was a challenge to write given his standard brief: “Send me something, I’ll tell you if it’s wrong.”

That made it like golf in the fog. In order to anticipate his thinking, I had to imprint in my brain his voice, his Latinate mode of expression and every word ever said by or about him. Ten years later it’s still all there. And since his arrest on Nov. 19, 2018, all that verbiage has continuously run through my mind as I try to make sense of this shocking event.

Speechwriters learn to enter the C-suite like the guy who cleans the lion cage at the zoo, showing boundless respect but no fear, equally ready for a purring schmoozer or a snarling furniture thrower. Ghosn was neither of these. There was no small talk. Behind a cool-as-ice demeanor lay palpable potential for volcanic anger (luckily never directed my way) and a sense that his mere displeasure could lead to dispassionate beheading. But above all, what stood out was his discipline, focus and grasp of detail. An intimidating cat for sure.

No minutes of my life have ticked by more slowly than the three I sat in silence across the table as he read my very first draft. Occasionally, his imposing eyebrows would lift with questions like, “Mr. Harris, is there one ‘l’ in fueled or two?”

I might have been more intimidated, and might not have survived, but for the fact that I’d spent the three prior years working closely with two Ford-appointed Mazda CEOs (Mark Fields and Lewis Booth) on a turnaround equally significant if less high-profile than Nissan’s “Revival.”

Having been close witness to two analogous automaker turnarounds, I have an informed perspective on the first of two questions the “Ghosn Affair” raises in my mind.

What did Ghosn do for Nissan?

“Le Cost Killer,” the nickname French media gave Ghosn before his arrival in Japan, has led too many journalists into the lazy trope that curing a sick automaker is mainly about cost-cutting. In fact, what Ghosn did was much more complex and profound. Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa further distorted history in his post-arrest presser by dismissing Ghosn’s contribution to Nissan’s revival. Fact is, it would never have happened without him, if only because Renault would never have bet $5 billion on Nissan without Ghosn to drive it.

In 1999, Nissan was a dysfunctional mess. Where other Japanese automakers, like Mazda, have head offices inside their plants with the roosts ruled by oil-stained engineers, Nissan’s Ginza HQ was stuffed with headless chickens, Keio and Todai men with clean fingernails, each jealously guarding his own fiefdom. Not just unable to see the forest for the trees, they were obsessed with the sacred cows grazing beneath them. 

When confronted with a forest, Ghosn has an analytical brilliance that instantly gauges its extent and the average size of each tree before precisely calculating the market value of the timber within. That’s why his crucial first move in 1999 was to bring over a hand-picked team and direct their benchmarking of every function in Nissan – just as he had done with spectacular results two years earlier at Renault.

Once armed with a detailed diagnosis, Ghosn moved quickly to fix what he found. Sure, cost cuts were part of the remedy. But any automaker is like a giant clock with literally millions of moving parts, and Ghosn quickly and brilliantly got the whole works ticking in harmony.

He broke down siloed fiefdoms by slaughtering sacred cows their chieftains had long defended and mandating “cross-functional teams.” He eradicated the headless chickens by focusing each team on three do-or-die commitments. He instituted promotion by merit, not seniority. But crucially, he got everyone onside by communicating brilliantly to the workforce. This was true leadership.

Equally significant, as an Arab outsider, Ghosn shunned what his French colleagues might have tried. Raised on the Babar books, about an elephant who is turned into a proper Frenchman, the French have a powerful instinct to impose their own norms. Instead, Ghosn was careful to maintain Nissan’s Japanese “identity” (one of his favorite words) in the Alliance.

The result: after eight years in the red, Nissan was back in the black within two years – recording its highest profit ever.

Ghosn made other brilliant contributions, too. Stung by criticism that Nissan was an environmental laggard, at the FCCJ in 2006 he quipped that “if you criticize hybrids people think you are retarded.” Shortly after I counseled him not to use that term again, he had a road-to-Damascus conversion, leading the industry in deciding that the future was all-electric. Overriding the objections of Nissan engineers, he launched development of the LEAF EV.

What did Ghosn do for Nissan? Beyond question, he saved the company. There was no one else to do it, and he did it. The question is . . .

What did saving Nissan do to Carlos Ghosn?

It made him a rock star, and as many a poor boy has learned, that can be a lethal dose of success. To understand his trajectory, consider who Ghosn was before he burst onto Japan’s stage in 1999.

Forget the boilerplate that dubs him, “French-Brazilian.” In his socks, Ghosn is Maronite-Christian Lebanese, a cohesive Arab tribe with a vast diaspora found even in remote locales like the Amazon, where his grandfather ran a bush airline. Both wives have been of this tribe, and first wife Rita started a restaurant in Daikanyama because Tokyo had no decent Lebanese food.

His French-ness was painted on by Jesuit schooling in Beirut, and math brilliance opened doors to the top schools in Paris. But as a nerdy lad in a snobbish city that generally shuns Arabs, it’s unlikely that university was a garden of carnal delight for young Carlos.

Most of his career was spent in drab backwaters like Clermont-Ferrand, the grim French industrial city where he met first wife Rita playing bridge. And Greenville, South Carolina, where three of four offspring were born. Social life there revolved around playing cards with the Rotary set. By some accounts Ghosn was a hen-pecked husband. “Was Rita domineering?” I asked someone who socialized with the couple in Tokyo. “Oh, totally! Over the top.”

It was only two years before his first Tokyo visit that Ghosn hit anything like the big time. Catapulted into the number two spot at Renault in late 1996, he returned to the bright lights of Paris and quickly pulled the rabbit from the hat that presaged his feats at Nissan. Even after moving to Tokyo, though, Saturday night chez Ghosn was hardly a glamorous affair. While four teenagers did homework, Rita would often invite neighbors over to play cards.

In 2008, after 10 years of dogged effort at Nissan, Ghosn at 54 was at the pinnacle of success just as his personal circumstances started to shift. Once the youngest child departed for university, his marriage began to dissolve. After decades of highly disciplined existence, he was ripe for a midlife crisis.

Ghosn is studiously discreet, but a number of puzzle pieces from that era suggest a pattern. His long-time personal assistant was shunted off to a new role. In the name of diversity, he began surrounding himself with women who just happened to be attractive. Rumors of affairs began to circulate. Like that classic comic about a nerdy, sexually repressed gaijin who finds fulfillment in Japan, it seems Ghosn discovered his inner Charisma Man. Add to that the 2009 arrival in Japan of his co-accused, Greg Kelly, the Tennessee fixer who secured tax incentives that greased the move of Nissan’s North American base to Nashville.

Fast-forward to October 2016, when Ghosn rented Versailles for an opulent Marie Antoinette-themed second wedding to the glamorous blonde Carole Nahas. Her kids were in the photos, his were nowhere in sight. How far Ghosn had gone in a decade from Saturday night bridge with the neighbors.

None of this is to suggest Ghosn is guilty of anything. The point is that rock star success seems to have changed him. Had his most notable traits – discipline and focus – not somehow slipped, surely he would not be in his current predicament.

And, while any knife thrust from an embittered ex-wife must be taken with a whole shaker of salt, Rita’s social media comments since Ghosn’s arrest are disturbing:
“All narcissists are hypocrites. They pretend to have morals and values that they really don’t possess. Behind closed doors, they lie, insult, criticize, disrespect and abuse. They can do and say whatever they want, but how dare you say anything back to them or criticize them. They have a whole set of rules for others, but follow none of their own rules, and practice nothing of what they preach.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be shocked. Genius often comes in a complicated package, and according to a study widely reported in 2016, one-in-five CEOs are psychopaths. That’s not to say Ghosn is, but the man I encountered would turn on impressive charm when required then flick it off straight after – which made his warmth feel somehow feigned. So while my own experience with Ghosn left me with enduring respect for his ability, I have few warm memories.

Still, I sympathize with his current plight, jailed indefinitely with no chance to defend himself as his reputation is destroyed by a daily torrent of abuse. This hideous process reveals Japan’s justice system as only one step removed from Saudi Arabia’s. While Japanese prosecutors have not dismembered Ghosn with a bone saw, denying anyone the right defend himself or to bail goes against all principles of natural justice. At the end of this sordid affair I believe Japan’s reputation will have suffered more than Ghosn’s. ❶

John R. Harris is a veteran speechwriter who has served CEOs and politicians on three continents from his forest lair on Chiba’s Pacific coast.

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