The Fine Print

Friday, September 21, 2012

David Cay Johnston explains the ways corporations hide sneaky stipulations in contract, often with government permission. In The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use "Plain English" to Rob You Blind, he deciphers the jargon used in things like utility bills that cost you money, and he points out what’s missing—all the contractually binding clauses that companies hide but still enforce. Johnston shares solutions you can use to fight back against these devious practices.


David Cay Johnston

Comments [17]

Amy from Manhattan

superf88, either Leonard or Brian had a segment (earlier this year, I think) about why more utilities aren't run underground. Mostly, it's because it costs more. (Why "blame labor?")

Steve, there are some alternative companies that have more equitable customer agreements. For example, CREDO, which supplies cell & long-distance phone service, has an agreement w/a provision that arbitration will take place in a a city agreed on by both parties in the customer's state, not the company's (although if it does come to a trial,it will be by a judge & in California) & while the American Arbitration Association supplies the list of potential arbitrators, it's w/the customer's concurrence, & *either* party can strike any arbitrators it finds unacceptable from the list. The arbitrator's decision is also subject to a court review, which is very unusual in customer agreements. CREDO's agreement has other unusual provisions, like notifying customers of changes & refusing to comply w/unlawful gov't. requests for customer records! You can see for yourself at

Sep. 21 2012 01:36 PM
Amy from Manhattan

And now Spectra is trying to build a pipeline into Manhattan. They've already started construction on Sanitation Pier in the West Village. If there's an explosion, 10 schools & 8 playgrounds (incl. 1 on the next pier down) are in the blast zone. More info is available at

Sep. 21 2012 12:41 PM
harry from nyc

Get this man a lifevest.

he is pointing out how the few make big money in the USA.

He is going to get killed

Sep. 21 2012 12:34 PM
andrea from new york

Sprint unilaterally and surreptitiously imposed a ceiling on my G4 usage, although my 2 year contract was for unlimited use. I am still fighting the snowballing charges

Sep. 21 2012 12:33 PM
Steve from Rockville Centre, NY

The Supreme Court decision upholding mandatory arbitration clauses has doomed the consumer. It's a decision up there with Citizens United.

Sep. 21 2012 12:33 PM

why aren't utilities underground by now? blame labor?

Sep. 21 2012 12:28 PM
Laura from UWS

Please feature these types of stories on a regular basis.

How can we get an army of David Cay Johnstons? Serious!!!

Sep. 21 2012 12:27 PM

Why do our public utility companies here in New York now hound you and indeed will shut you off much much sooner than they used to 15-20 years ago?
Were PSC rules or oversight changed?

Sep. 21 2012 12:25 PM

Is the guest familiar with the utility reseller "Ambit" and if all their savings claims are on the up and up?

Sep. 21 2012 12:23 PM
John A

In that a service is advertised as costing you X and billed as X+Y, that's fraud. Simple.

Sep. 21 2012 12:21 PM

From the regulatory standpoint, which industry is worst? My (admittedly unscientific) survey of doctors' offices suggest that health insurers are getting _worse_ post-ACA (Affordable Care Act). More people are getting insurance, but insurers are covering less. The small print in insurance agreements can run into dozens of pages, most dedicated to exempting the insurer from various kinds of liability or absolving the firm of responsibility.

Sep. 21 2012 12:19 PM
John A

"The Fleecing of America" used to be an almost weekly TV segment. Now everybody including that TV company is too concerned with their own fleecing.

Sep. 21 2012 12:16 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

Please. The City of New York allows TWC a virtual monopoly on cable service here, and the U.S. government allows all cable providers to hold us hostage to the most expensive price for cable television and so-called "broadband" in the free world. Guess why more of us are untethering from cable?

I have email in my AT&T 4G telephone (insert flaming 4 logo here) sent yesterday that has yet to be received by their intended recipients. We pay, even when these companies don't deliver service.

We must, as a people, love being screwed. USA USA!

Sep. 21 2012 12:14 PM
!!!Robert from NYC

It's interesting that these huge corporations cry foul about what they call competition and yet they gobble up each other to produce huuuuuuuuuuge institutions that compete with no one because they are now "everyone". Examples? Verizon telephone company in NYC, can you go to another? Time Warner and Cablevision have been divided up to parts of the city but you can only use the one who operates in your area!!! What kind of competition is that? There needs to be regulation and openess. Why aren't we out in the streets with OWS overwhelming the police barriers that prevent us from protesting, a right granted us. Who's our mayor in NY? A billionaire businessman who has no sympathy/empathy with the population he "rules" and a top cop who's more concerned about the way he dresses and the care of his prissy cop's treatment than the people he pledged to protect, or should have pledged to protect. Wake up America!!!

Sep. 21 2012 12:13 PM
david from ditmas park

why does it seem like i pay an MTA tax on every one of my utility / phone bills?

Sep. 21 2012 12:13 PM
John from NYC

From Tom Waits's song "Step Right Up" - "the large print giveth and the small print taketh away".

Sep. 21 2012 12:12 PM
Ian from Northern New Jersey

I hope your guest discusses the fact that almost all large corporations, and probably smaller ones like regional grocery chains, keep the state payroll taxes that their employees are handing over every week thinking that it goes to things like state government (roads, education, quality of life projects, etc...).

It does not.

They are offered, or threaten to leave if they don't get, a tax credit which is equal to what their employees pay in state level taxes and then the rest of the state gets the honor of 'making up the difference'. If our politicians were interested in the people rather than the people in the board room then maybe things like this would be brought to light. It never is, I wonder why.

Major and local media never talk about it. Politicians never talk about it. The corporation never tells its employees about it. This book is nice, but it will fall on deaf ears and after this initial p.r. tour is done it will never be talked about again.

Corporations run this place, the Democrats and the Republicans tow the line, and the media is owned by the corporations.

We have two politicians and the entire nation arguing over who outsourced more jobs, Romney or Obama? Who is responsible for outsourcing, Chinese and Mexican labor standards or unions. We get wall-to-wall coverage of the latest celebrity nipple sighting but never do I hear from the media that the reason we lost so many decent paying manufacturing/office jobs is corporate and shareholder greed...and the tax laws that they have lobbied into place to facilitate this profit-gasm.

They understand that money is a faith based system, and they are using their power to leverage their earnings into actual wealth (land and mineral rights) while we all chase a living wage. There are no loyalties to America, or any other nation. They have loyalties to themselves and whomever can help expedite our sprint back to the 1920s.

They would literally step on your child if it would result in a 2% rise in their profits.

Sep. 21 2012 11:11 AM

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