Sunday, January 08, 2006

More on liars for hire

Tom Giovanetti, who is President of the Institute for Policy Innovation, responded to my previous comment. Contrary to his implication, my comment about Ferrara is based entirely upon what he is quoted as saying in the New York Times (since Giovanetti did not address the substance of my remark, I wonder if he actually read it; I can imagine an aide using Google to find and comment on any blog that mentioned Ferrara and the IPI). I write now to say that I recognize the distinction between paying someone to write an article advocating your point of view and paying someone, or merely lending your name to someone, because you agree with their views. While the latter is an expression of first-amendment rights akin to the freedom to own a printing press and use it to publish what you like (and I would certainly defend those rights), there is a corresponding obligation on the part of the public to recognize such sources for what they are. While on this topic I will also admit that although I am fond of the phrase 'liars for hire' and consider it an appropriate counterweight to the phrase '[so-and-so] of the respected think tank [such-and-such]' I acknowledge that most of these writers probably do believe what they write. However, something is very wrong when the media routinely presents as balanced the pairing of these people with academics or journalists who genuinely seek the truth. All too often, those who would use money to influence public debate appear to have succeeded.

If this topic interest you, then you may want to read the comments of Michael Kinsley, former editorial and opinion editor of the Los Angeles Times, in the Washington Post ("Pundit Payola").


Blogger Peter Roemer said...

I dunno, Steve. I'd like to believe that I could trust the word of credentialed institutions--it makes for a happier state of mind--but the more I hear of graft, corruption, lying, thievery, egotism, self-aggrandizement-- I tend to think that it's potentially everywhere. Therefore I trust most those people I see and know with my own eyes and ears, then (somewhat less) the people who are trusted by those I trust, and so on down the line. By the time you get to someone a couple of removes from me the trust factor is low--I'm pretty skeptical about how well I know him. In other words, everyone is a liar for hire in some ways, and everyone's opinion is "bought" by that person's interests. I do better, therefore, by taking everyone's opinion as it stands and evaluating it, and not by trying to figure out how "fair" it is. The lesson here for me is not to give greater credence to someone just because she is "known" or "respected".

29/1/06 14:06  
Blogger Tom Giovanetti said...

Steve, if you follow this story, what you're going to see in a few days is that the problem with defining a standard and then demanding that everyone adhere to your new standard is that, sometimes, it turns out that not even you yourself have adhered to the standard. This idea that if any corporate money is involved, the outcome must be tainted, is going to backfire on the BizWeek writer in a very personal way. The fact of the matter is that it is a hopeless and foolish task to try to determine someone's motive when they advocate. They might be doing it for money, they might be doing it for some personal vendetta where no money is involved. They might be doing it for political bias. It's impossible to know what someone's motivation is. So readers must simply evaluate for themselves on the basis of the arguments. I might be on one side of an issue and getting some corporate support. Another guy might be on the other side of the issue, and not be getting any money, but yet might be lying through his teeth out of some other internal personal motivation. Is the reader supposed to have more confidence in his opinion than mine simply because I got paid? I could be getting paid and be completely honest, and the other guy could be getting nothing but be completely dishonest. In the end, it is a hopeless task to try to do a shortcut around critical thinking by just discounting someone because they're getting paid.

30/1/06 22:12  
Blogger Steve said...

Tom, thanks for writing again. I completely agree with you that bias can have many causes and we must ultimately evaluate arguments, not motivations. However, I stick by the opinion that those who have money have found ways to use that money to sway public opinion, and that most people in our society would benefit from taking this into account more than they do.

31/1/06 00:57  

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