Op$Ed

In Slate, Timothy Noah discusses the case of the two US thinktankers who were paid to write op-eds favourable to particular clients – Cato’s Doug Bandow, and Peter Ferrara of the Institute for Policy Innovation. My understanding is that this doesn’t occur in Australia – but if anyone has heard of instances, I’m all ears…..

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9 Responses to Op$Ed

  1. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Is there a causation issue here? I’m often paid for op-ed’s I write. Organisations often approach me to write, and comment, on issues and pay me money (or my employer) for views and opinions I hold (and am known to hold).

  2. Mork says:

    Sinclair – isn’t the answer is as simple as asking whether an average reader would agree that the relevant facts about how a particular piece came to be published have been fairly presented, or are apparent on their face.

    For example, I think when people see an opinion piece in a publication, they would assume that the publication is paying the writer for their work. But they would not assume that any other organization is paying to see those views expressed, so that should be disclosed to avoid a misleading impression.

  3. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Mark, you may well be right. But I’m still uncomfortable by the notion that payment is the be all and end all of integrity. The op-eds need be evaluated on their merits. The op-ed page is where people express views and arguments. Consider these examples, I have supported Shell in an op-ed piece, but Shell has never paid me any money. I have argued for low-taxes, although I’m employed by a university subsidized by taxation. I have criticised the ARC, even though my research is (partly) funded by them. I often argue, in person, that smokers are an opporessed minority – although I don’t smoke (any more) nor have I received money from them. So, it’s quite possible to hold views independently of financing source.

    So, it’s not enough to show that someone was paid to work. You would need to show that they were dishonest, ie changed their views as a consequence of accepting money (without disclosure).

  4. Mork says:

    So, it’s not enough to show that someone was paid to work. You would need to show that they were dishonest, ie changed their views as a consequence of accepting money (without disclosure).

    But in most cases, it’s almost impossible to be black-and-white about actual dishonesty in that sense: who other the writer him/herself knows whether a payment motivated them to express a particular view in a particular way? I also think people are very good at subconciously convincing themselves that what they believe aligns with what’s good for them, so they may not even know themselves!

    That’s why the answer is disclosure: let the reader decide.

  5. Ben Ticehurst says:

    The real problem is the moving of intellectual debate from the public sphere to the private sphere. Vast sums of money pour into “think tanks” -organisations which have euphemistic names belying the (mostly) corporate backers that use them to convince the public that corporate interests are all of our interests. We can no more expect quality unbiased research from these organisations than we can expect quality unbiased current affairs from Tracy Grimshaw.

  6. Though the reality is that overall think-tanks have a pretty good record of pursuing their own path. It’s partly because their critics can’t draw the connection between research and corporate interests that they focus so much on the simple fact of corporate funding. Cato, Bandow’s ex-employer, has kissed large sums good-bye rather than follow what donors wanted (it’s isolationist stance particularly has cost it money). I work for both a public university and a private think-tank. The university bends over backwards every day to please its principal sponsor, the Commonwealth government. I have never seen the CIS do anything like that in the more than 10 years I have worked for them.

  7. Gasp! That should be “its’ isolationist stance. Wrongly placed apostrophes are one of my pet hates!

  8. John Quiggin says:

    As an aside, there was a piece in the Fin the other day, in which an American innovator told a story about incentives which included the claim that all US publications pay $US1 a word. I was struck by the fact that the Fin doesn’t pay $US1 a word (at least it doesn’t pay me that much). It’s kind of unusual for a buyer to advertise the fact that others are paying more, though of course, there are some big (if hard to specify) barriers to international trade in this area.

  9. John Quiggin says:

    Andrew, there’s obviously a sense in which the universities kowtow to the Commonwealth, but your claim might be misinterpreted as applying to research and public comment.

    I’ve been working in universities for a long time, and vigorously criticising governments of both parties, and I’ve never been pressured to change what I write, or even soften my tone.

    There are areas that are subject to pressure, but in a more complex way than your post suggests.

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