Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Do Cows Support Eating Beef?

While I'm being a good blogger, let me point out this post by Tim Lambert. He finds an article in the St. Petersberg Times concerning the disturbing tendency for op-eds to be written by individuals receiving pay from the corporations whose agenda they are supporting in their op-eds. This is a subject about which Lambert has written much, and you can read his post, as well as the Times article, for more. But this one bit from the article made me lol pretty hard:

[Steven] Milloy runs a Web site called that says many conclusions about global warming are based on faulty science. He discloses on the site that his groups have received money from ExxonMobil. But the disclosure was not included with the op-ed.

Milloy said he wrote the column because he opposes windfall profits taxes and supports free-market economics. He said the money he received from ExxonMobil was not a factor.

"I don't know what Exxon's position on windfall profits is," he said.

Read that again: He says he doesn't know what Exxon's position on the windfall profits tax is. That's kind of like saying that he doesn't know what Exxon's position on selling oil is. You don't exactly need a signed statement on company letter-head to figure it out.

That particular statement is simply the most absurd in a series of rationalizations given by defenders of this pay-for-play system who deny having any conflict of interest. They claim that the companies don't tell them what to write, they just write about the things they believe in, and they would believe in these things regardless of whether or not the companies were lavishing them with bling bling. Sure. Even assuming this is technically true (and the article gives many reasons to believe it isn't) there still exists a rather massive conflict of interest. The fact is, companies like Exxon give them money because they write things that benefit Exxon. While they may technically have the independence to start writing anti-Exxon missives, they know good and well that doing so would carry a high probability of Exxon no longer supporting their "work", in which case they'd have to go back to bagging groceries or whatever they're qualified for. Under such circumstances, most people are going to be careful not to upset their pay masters. And that goes double for these self-styled "free-market" types who believe that every transaction is conducted for the purpose of trying to maximize one's rational self-interest.

But even if we did buy their excuse, it's all irrelevant. If they really do think that accepting money from McDonalds has no effect on what they write about McDonalds, no problem. Just disclose it. Conflicts of interest aren't necessarily a bad thing. Simply tell everyone where you're getting your money, make the case that you're not a corporate hack, and then let the reader decide. If Milloy and the rest truly believe they're doing nothing unethical, then they should have no problem with full disclosure. But they do have a problem with disclosure. What does that tell us?