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Opinion Laundering

In “Think Tanks for Sale,” Slate’s Timothy Noah exclaims:

Among the many revelations of the scandal surrounding the Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff is the remarkable degree to which the capital’s think tank “scholars” can be bought.

It’s absolutely true. The sleaze Noah documents so well in this posting is well worth a look (and, I hope, an expression of utter disgust at what you read).

But a revelation? Not to anyone who’s been paying attention.

The practice of getting people to issue position papers, op-ed pieces and other opinion-pushing material is dishonorable when there’s no transparency, but it’s all too common. Astro-turfing — ginning up phony grassroots activity for or against some person or issue — has been going on for years, and the use of supposedly independent think tanks is part of that game.

My name for this slippery stuff is “opinion laundering” — getting others to take your positions while keeping your own fingerprints off the operation, as a money launderer does in turning illicit cash into the kind he can spend or invest openly.

One of my fondest hopes for citizen journalism is that we can, as a community, expose such activities whenever possible. The invaluable SourceWatch is always a good place to start.

2 Comments on “Opinion Laundering”

  1. #1 Lisa Williams
    on Mar 30th, 2006 at 12:34 am

    I think the case of Tech Central Station never really got a thorough look. A number of bloggers wrote for TCS, which was funded by a lobbyist group.

    The bloggers claimed that no one told them what to write, and I believe them.

    I think TCS is an example of corruption at the editorial, rather than the writer, level. TCS didn’t attempt to directly pay off a writer to write something positive, as with the Armstrong Williams case. They just used their clients’ money to shop for people who they believed would say something positive.

    Given that there was no disclosure of the relationship between TCS and the lobbying firm, and the lobbying firm’s clients, TCS looked to an unsuspecting reader like, say, NRO, the online outpost of a right-leaning magazine. But it wasn’t.


    OT: Making comments on this blog is difficult. I’ve written a number of comments here that were lost when I was told I had to login — but when I logged in, the comment I had written had gone poof. At least a few times I’ve just bagged it at that point rather than try to redo it.

  2. #2 Seth Finkelstein
    on Mar 30th, 2006 at 1:12 am

    “One of my fondest hopes for citizen journalism is that we can, as a community, expose such activities whenever possible.”

    Conversely, the bogosphere would seem to be an even better field for such opinion-planting activities – *cough* “Pajamas Media” *cough* ….

    Between hope on one hand, and a pile of right-wing money on the other hand, I suspect the hand with the pile of right-wing money will fill up first.