Saturday, December 14, 2013

Corporate sponsorship is the rule in the think tank and policy writing world

The Center for American Progress is downplaying the importance of corporate donors, particularly regarding its papers on healthcare, even there is concern about the role of subsidy of think tanks on both the left and particularly the right, according to a New York Times article Saturday on p. A13 in the New York Times, link here
Journalists are supposed to be objective, and syndicated columnists have some leeway on the right or left, according to the newspapers that run their op-eds.  But most think-tanks and lobbying support research companies have to depend on biases sources for funding.
When I worked for Lewin ICF in 1989, most of the reports were sponsored by lobbying groups and trade associations.  At the time, we worked on a shoestring (it’s different now), but I got the idea that one could produce a lot of important output with few resources.
Typically, all of this means that if you are paid opinion consultant (even for a libertarian place like Cato), you really can’t just express your own personal views.  The very most prominent journalists do get to inject their own moral tone into the coverage of issues (Anderson Cooper likes to do this, having scolded a couple guests on not having “moral compass” before).  It does seem to me that the work from Pew seems very objective. 
I don’t advocate that writers follow the path that I did, putting out reams of material that can’t pay for itself.  But I do have an unusual, or “a different life” to report, one with particular paradoxes and ironies that span decades and that map to important policy issues. 
It’s hard to see, for example, how corporate sponsorship of research could bear on an issue like “don’t ask, don’t tell”, an issue that spoke to the capability (and permission from society) to participate in some shared risk-taking and possible sacrifice to protect others, and particularly future generations. The same might go for the marriage issue.
In the speech areas, though, it’s clear that there are different corporate stakes, even within the technology world, when it comes to issues like piracy, downstream liability, and tort reform (encompassing abuses by trolls).  

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