Saturday, February 15, 2014

False Equivalence- The Reporter's Best Friend

Driving home a couple of days ago, I had the misfortune to listen to an interview on NPR's Fresh Air, until I couldn't stand it any more.  Let me state that this is not a particular criticism of Terry Gross, the  host of Fresh Air, who did in the end ask the right question- all she failed to do was to hit the guy she was interviewing with a baseball bat after getting his answers.  Anyway, the best way to deal with this is to jump right in to the transcript:

"Eric Lipton, an investigative reporter for The New York Times...explains the revolving door between Congress and lobby groups, and how non-profit think tanks aren't always what they seem.
GROSS: So one of the things you've been investigating is how corporate lobby groups are funding research that will influence both lawmakers and popular opinion. And one of the ways they're doing that is by funding think-tanks. And give us an example of a think-tank that is funded by a lobby group, although you wouldn't know that if you were reading the research that the think-tank turned out.
LIPTON: Well, there's - for example, there's a group called the Employment Policies Institute, which puts out reports that examines what would happen if we raise the minimum wage, what impact will it have on unemployment and on poverty in the United States. And if you look at the reports, they're very academic-looking, and they say they're, you know, a nonpartisan research organization. 
GROSS: Now, in the Employment Policies Institute, the group that you mentioned that turns out research that opposes raising the minimum wage, they're actually directly connected to a PR firm led by somebody named Richard Berman. The PR firm is called Berman and Company. And this is an interesting group because they actually have created several, you know, think-tanks and, you know, consumer groups that are created because they're funded by a special interest."

Somebody named Richard Berman.  Just a random somebody.  Of course, Berman has been called  "Dr. Evil," the "Conservatives' Weapon of Mass Destruction" and the "Astroturf Kingpin," and has run one of the most notorious corporate propaganda factories for decades.  But that is apparently not worth mentioning on Fresh Air.

"GROSS: You actually went to visit the research director of the Employment Policies Institute, and what did you find about the address of the Employment Policies Institute?
LIPTON: Yeah, I was - you know, set up an interview with the research director. I got the address of his office. I went to the eighth floor of the building on Vermont Avenue, like four blocks from the White House. The elevator opens, and it's Berman and Company. And I go in and, you know, there's a bunch of awards on the wall, advertising awards, public relations awards that Berman and Company has won for its work, you know, doing ad campaigns on behalf of various industry groups. 

And so I didn't see any evidence at all that there was an Employment Policies Institute office. And in fact when I started to interview the people there, they explained that there are no employees at the Employment Policies Institute and that all the staff there works for Berman and Company, and then they sometimes are just detailed to the various think-tanks and various consumer groups that he operates out of his office."

You see, the people who write their reports are not scientists, they are PR hacks pretending to be scientists.  Well, we all suspected that, didn't we?  But now comes the kicker:  the liberals are just as dishonest:

"LIPTON: Yeah, there's another group, a very similar name. It's hard to avoid getting them confused. This one's called the Economic Policy Institute instead of the Employment Policies Institute. And the Economic Policy Institute, you go to their website, and every article you can see is, you know, the case for raising the minimum wage, more than 600 economists endorse the $10.10 minimum wage, which is the higher level. 

The minimum wage is not enough to keep workers out of poverty. But then, you know, as you dig down into their website, and you go to their annual report, and you look through who the contributors are, I found more than 20 labor unions that are among their major contributors. And the organization told me that 30 percent of their money does, in fact, come from labor unions. 

And again, I mean they argue just like the Employment Policies Institute argues, that their academic research is not in any way influenced..."

It's unavoidable!  That is, unless you ask a simple question- Is one of these groups reporting real research?  Is one of them telling the truth, while the other one is just making up lies?  But apparently, that question is irrelevant.  This is where, at least, Terry Gross asks the right question:

"GROSS: Does the Economic Policy Institute, the liberal economic think-tank, do they actually have an office? Do they actually have, like, independent researchers who aren't members of a PR group? 

LIPTON: Yeah, it's a very different organization. They have an office. They have a very large staff. Their staff is, you know, quite a number of, you know, economists with very, you know, good, good reputations. And, you know, so it's not as much of a slight of hand. They are a real organization that does put out reports..."

I see, these two groups are exactly the same sort of lying, partisan hacks, except that the one employed by the unions has a "very large staff," and the other one has no staff at all- i.e. is a phony organization.  Oh, and except that the unions' one employs "quite a number of, you know, economists with very, you know, good, good reputations."  Who publish their results in actual peer reviewed journals.  "And, you know, so it's not as much of a slight of hand."  It's not as much of a slight of hand.

Translation- they are actual professionals doing professional quality research and working for a real organization.  As opposed to a bunch of lying PR hacks who just invent "conclusions" to satisfy their corporate paymasters.  That's the only difference.  Not much, really, is it, when you think about it?  Just the difference between the truth and lies.  But when Republicans are telling the lies, it just isn't polite to notice that.

And this is what we get on the supposedly liberal NPR, and from a reporter employed by the supposedly liberal New York Times.  This is the best it gets in mainstream American journalism, folks.  Is it any wonder that our nation is drowning in ignorance- ignorance which strangely never seems to benefit anyone except the people with the most money?


Jerry Critter said...

Journalism, like politics, is becoming a hack profession.

Magpie said...

Broadly speaking, there is a pervasive confusion in contemporary journalism between fact finding and ‘seeing all sides of the story’. Hammering home to the core truth of anything is regarded as bullying (unless you’re yelling at the top of your lungs on Fox). Not being prepared to uncritically entertain every horseshit opinion is regarded as somehow undemocratic or biased. Or rude.

Fuck ‘rude’.

Either something is fact or it isn’t. Nothing in our world exists in a grey area about that. Is it fact or it is not fact. How we all feel about those facts is a whole other conversation.

You are biased if there are PERTINENT facts you refuse to entertain - otherwise if you are a reporter you have every duty of care to call something bullshit if it is, in fact, bullshit. If you’re worried that this will damage your ‘career’, you’ve got the wrong employer and maybe the wrong career.

I also don’t get how the sentence “The minimum wage is not enough to keep workers out of poverty” can be followed by “but then..."

It's like saying 'there's an orphanage burning... how should we feel about that?'

Even much of the conservative prattle concedes the current minimum is not enough to keep you out of poverty ... they just wave it away by saying they’re meant to be ‘entry level jobs’, after which every burger flipper and floor mopper in America will naturally gravitate to ‘proper’ jobs like hedge fund management.

Shelley said...

You said a mouthful when you said, "ignorance which strangely never seems to benefit anyone except the people with the most money"...That's the truth, Ruth...

WAHM Shelley... :)