Monday, December 26, 2005

The kindness of strangers

Pajamas Media has a roundup on paid punditry. The scary thing is that there's very little statistical information on how widespread it is. Anecdotal information suggests that it affects think tanks, medical journals and much else. Rand Simberg asks if we can define when the actual moment of corruption comes.

If I write the piece that I want to write (perhaps partially based on material provided to me by them), and they like it sufficiently to make a donation of an amount of their choosing, is there anything wrong with that? The only way I've been influenced is by the idea of writing the piece in the first place. Where is the line crossed? Only when there's an explicit quid pro quo, in which one is being a stenographer in exchange for an agreed-upon amount?

Vdare Blog says payment does not always come in cash: "there a million 'impure' reasons, from invitations to the Bush White House, to the desire to impress women, that cause journalists to take the positions they do ... " Douglas McCollam at the Columbia Journalism Review talks about another form of coinage used in paid punditry: access. He comprehensively reviews the question of whether Walter Duranty's Pulitzer prize should have been revoked.

Duranty worked within the system, trading softer coverage for continuing access ... When Walter Duranty left the Times and Russia in 1934, the paper said his twelve-year stint in Moscow had "perhaps been the most important assignment ever entrusted by a newspaper to a single correspondent over a considerable period of time." By that time, Duranty was a journalistic celebrity — an absentia member of the Algonquin Roundtable, a confidant of Isadora Duncan, George Bernard Shaw, and Sinclair Lewis. He was held in such esteem that the presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt brought him in for consultations on whether the Soviet Union should be officially recognized. ...

In Moscow ... he enjoyed generous living quarters and food rations, as well as the use of assistants, a chauffeur, and a cook/secretary/mistress named Katya, who bore him a son named Michael ... was driven through the streets in a giant Buick outfitted with the Klaxon horn used by the Soviet secret police.

When Duranty began to describe food shortages in 1932, Stalin showed his displeasure. "In a meeting with the British ambassador to Moscow ... Duranty said government officials had threatened ... "serious consequences" for him ... he was afraid his visa would not be renewed. ... It's clear he was trying to serve two masters." When Malcolm Muggeridge filed one of the first real reports on the famines, smuggling his story past the censors, Duranty was afraid he would be scooped. "Confined to Moscow and perhaps alarmed at being scooped, Duranty began to openly criticize the famine reports." At any rate, after Duranty left Russia, he wrote a best-selling memoir of his days as a fearless foreign correspondent entitled I Write as I Please, which you can still purchase today from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Nothing of the discussion on Duranty should be construed as a tu quoque or excuse for paid punditry by think tanks, bloggers or academics. It's included because of all the forms of payment for opinion enumerated, journalistic access is probably the single most common -- and subtle -- form of quid pro quo.


I was asked at a discussion on blogging whether an anonymous writer could compete with an established expert. My reply was that an anonymous author had the advantage of never being able to never argue from authority. The sole force of his argument came from the proposition 'does it follow?'. Yet that was not wholly accurate and I knew it: people liked to know who you were and to trust you, even though you did not want to be trusted. I added, "when you are read by ten people a day you can say what you please, and no one, not even yourself, will care; but when you are read by ten thousand a day, everything changes and people -- you -- start to care". Punditry is one of those strange activities where for the good of your character it is best not to be too successful. One hope is the Internet, by spreading out readership among different sites will make it hard for dominant voices to arise. While human nature may not change, relative temptations might. Howard Kurtz described in the Washington Post how a Cato Institute scholar was accused of accepting $2,000 for every favorable editorial column he wrote. Which is sad: no one's opinion, except a doctor's or some similar specialist -- should be worth $2,000 -- and even then you should always ask: 'does it follow?'.


Blogger Doug said...

"He comprehensively reviews the question of whether Walter Duranty's Pulitzer prize should have been revoked."
Not having read the McCollam piece, my question would be,
What possible *good* reason is there for NOT revoking the prize?

12/26/2005 01:36:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

"no actual starvation or deaths from starvation, but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition."
While conditions were bad, Duranty went on to write, there was no famine.
The lazy Kulak did not die of starvation, he died from lack of oxygen when he stopped breathing.
This process was accelerated by malnutrition.
Arthur Sulzberger Jr. wrote that the Times had often acknowledged Duranty's slovenly work, but argued that the "board might set a bad precedent by revoking the award." Sulzberger wrote that the Times would respect whatever decision the board made, but cautioned that revoking the award was somewhat akin to the Stalinist urge "to airbrush purged figures out of official records and histories."

Obviously Paunch Sulzberger Jr. has the same way with words as Duranty, and would not want anyone to reflect critically on his freedom to continue in this style.

...many of his present day reporters are doing a bang up job of it.

12/26/2005 01:58:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Possibly the most terrifying comment from the linked article is this:

Not everyone was reticent. Barnes of the St. Petersburg Times said he feels strongly that reopening the Duranty case is a bad idea. "There have been many prizes during my tenure where you could look back and ask 'Is that the best we could do?'" says Barnes. "I can't imagine what good this will do."

Which is a fancy way of saying that Duranty was possibly par for the course; that if you started asking about Duranty, then you would have to ask after others. My own view is that journalism has never been better than politics. I could begin an argument on the basis of outrage, or I could sadly say: OK, what do we do about it?

There are many individuals, I think, who would never accept a dime. But I don't think we can construct a rule on that premise. The only safe course, I believe, is to assume that everyone is corruptible. Myself included. And for myself, I don't find that a bad rule. For if people cannot be corrupted by money, they can be led astray by error, or bias they cannot recognize. The only safe course, I think, is to say "is the argument right?". In the end you have to assume, pardon my French, that people are sinners. If they're not, then hallelujah. But sinners we are.

12/26/2005 02:08:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

"Punditry is one of those strange activities where for the good of your character it is best not to be too successful"
I think it is more a matter of the character, choices and personality of the pundit:
While Limbaugh is far more successful and well-known than most beltway pundits, his personal preference and intentional choice not to locate there insulates him from the almost all-encompassing atmosphere of conviviality and corruption that DC has become.

Far too much money (much of it taxpayer's money dispersed through our "public servants") access, and general circle jerk behavior goes on in that place for most mere mortals to resist.

Additionally, there is the siren song of the TV Cameras to lure Pundits and Senators to Moral Oblivion.

Point being, more important than success per se, is the choice, desire, and need to "succeed" in the Stinkhole that the Beltway has become.

12/26/2005 02:15:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Cutler's 12:49 AM comment in the previous thread points to another "influence" on free expression.
...the liberal bias in Academia.

Not mentioned in the PJ piece is the relentless liberal bias in the Beltway Media, and it's effect on "free expression."

Far too many Republicans (as well as all the Democrats) care more about what they will say than about being true to the concerns of their constituents.

12/26/2005 02:55:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

CBS and NYT conflict of interest policy violations reprints the Viacom and New York Times Company ethics policies, and demonstrates how both have violated their own policies by non-disclosure of conflicts of interest in major stories
- American Thinker

12/26/2005 03:50:00 AM  
Blogger _Jon said...

I accept it as a given that any article has bias - and the author too. Much like a politician, writers have a history and a perspective that filters what they chase and write about.

I understand and accept that.

What gets under my skin is when they try to explain that it doesn't exist or doesn't influence their behavior. I'm not an idiot, don't treat me like one.

12/26/2005 03:54:00 AM  
Blogger erp said...

... from invitations to the Bush White House ... This is really annoying. Why an example that doesn't apply?

Invitations to the Bush White House aren't for sale, why not use as an example invitations to the Clinton White House which were for sale and the Clinton's did a brisk business selling them.

Your comment about Duranty and pundits being no better than politicians is puzzling. Duranty wasn't billed as a pundit, he was billed as an ace reporter. He was telling us the news, not his opinion. Now that it's been proven without a shadow of a doubt that he lied in his "reports," he should be publicly exposed and if others need to be exposed as well, all the better.

Perhaps it will have a salutary effect on the current crop of "reporters."

12/26/2005 05:26:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Krugman is paid to play his baseless leftist games .
Krugman himself is no different than Bandow or Ferrara. They are scholars at think tanks, and Krugman is a scholar at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
And Krugman, too, gets paid by other people who rely on him to promote their viewpoints.
First and foremost: that powerful liberal lobbying machine known as the New York Times.
Since Krugman’s Times column began in 2000, has he ever — even once! — taken a position substantively different from that of the ultra-left-leaning Times editorial board, the folks who write his extracurricular checks?

12/26/2005 05:34:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

The "Press" always has an agenda.

Right wing or left
Capitialist or Socialist
Green or Pink or Red or Blue
This is something not at all new.

My Favorite historical pundit, Thomas Paine.
The Supreme Master of 'Spin', Joseph Goebbels

An "Award" for reporting, is called, often, a pay check. Some folk want 'more'

As wretchard notes even the anonymous have their 'reasons' and perversions of the 'truth'.

Even the famous Mr Limbaugh has recieved 'Awards', from the very Politicians he comments about, no less. There may not have been 'payment' except for ACCESS.

On a show with a No Guests policy, being one is a special favor, reserved for VP's and the like. Each player has to toe the line, in both directions, to be in that game.

But the 'reporter' that gets the 'scoop' because of Access is no longer a Reporter but a player, Mr Woodward is the prime living example of this transformation.
From a giant killer searching for truth in parking garages, to someone that gets it straight from the Oval Office.

12/26/2005 07:07:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

This issue would seem to be a slippery slope of Matterhorn, if not Everest proportions.
I can say with the small authority of my own very modest writing career that mere competency results in "access", which often results in increased popularity and even better competency.
The ability to construct a coherent paragraph is relatively rare and to both perform and describe a well constructed thought process even more so.
People appreciate this fact and are far more willing to talk to even an obscure but published author.
Tom Clancy was invited to the White House; he is hardly a pundit and appears to have no aspirations as an advisor.
So if "access" constitutes payment for services rendered, true objectivity can only be attained by the incompetent.

12/26/2005 07:30:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Access is a form of payment. Make no mistake about that. How it warps the perspective of the reporter, that is the unknown.

That is why Duranty in his era and CNN in it's decided to self censor their reporting, so as to continue their special ACCESS, to get the 'scoop', the 'exclusive', whether from Stalin or Saddam.

But remember that Reporters are not Priests, sworn to a life of modest poverty, nor are they Judges schooled in the ways of justice.
They are expected to tell the truth, as they understand it, or how their Editor/ Publisher wants it.
"Remember the Maine!"

As wretchard posted earlier
What is truth?

12/26/2005 07:51:00 AM  
Blogger exhelodrvr said...

I think that "number of readers"/site hits are the potentially corrupting factors in today's world. If an author didn't care about others reading his/her work, they wouldn't bother posting them on the internet. So they will tend to write with a style and on topics that others want to read. Which can lead to very biased output. The same logic generally applies to other media. I.e. why post an accurate picture of Iraq, when the public cares more about seeing/reading the negative images? The better pundits are more careful about monitoring themselves to avoid this.

12/26/2005 08:12:00 AM  
Blogger Pierre Legrand said...

The problem with more blogs is finding the wheat amongst all the chaff. What happens at that point is most people simply use one of the big linkers like Instapundit to find new blogs to read. And as terrific as Glenn is to read that still has the effect of guiding people down a funnel of Glenn's own prejudicial view of the world. For instance you won't find Glenn linking very often if at all to stories that show Islam in a bad light. This is not to say he won't link to stories about the head choppers, he will, but to say he doesn't view stories about the inate corruptness of Islam to be worthwhile. And this is certainly his right.

Merely trying to show the problem with more and more bloggers.


12/26/2005 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

I am signed up with Pajamas. However, many of my co-bloggers on the Badger Blog Alliance are skeptical and worried that getting too big or too attached will constrain their blogging.

While in other forums I have opined publicly (and have received badgering phone calls and anonymous letters via the mail) I blog with a pseudonymn. Why? Mayroon akong dahilan (I have my reasons). However, I want my blog to grow big at least big enough I can justify the activity to the Empress ;-).

Desert Rat opines thusly:
But remember that Reporters are not Priests, sworn to a life of modest poverty, nor are they Judges schooled in the ways of justice.
They are expected to tell the truth, as they understand it, or how their Editor/ Publisher wants it.
"Remember the Maine!"

Two possible meanings I come away with here. Is it the reporters who consider themselves as the priests of truth or all of us demanding journalists report the truth? My initial reaction was for the former view but as I was prepping a comment the later struck me as possible.

The former (journalists consider themselves the high priests of truth), my guess, is well accepted here. It is not possible to trust what the journalists report and they twist the news to fit their view, for example Mary Mapes she still is out there arguing on how she was right.

The later applies to us who demand the truth from journalists and truth is the perfect retelling of a story. Perhaps it is the later as the former interpretation demands perfection. Perfection is a worthy goal to strive know the rest.

12/26/2005 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

The World is But a Stage...
"But the 'reporter' that gets the 'scoop' because of Access is no longer a Reporter but a player"
Only those that have assumed room temperature are no longer players, that is a given, but all players are not equal, nor equally influenced by their influence, (access) competence, or success.
What we are left with is the record of the accuracy and/or usefulness of the reporter and/or pundit to the reader. The combinations and permutations follow, but not being Shakespeare, I will not try to do them justice.
One given is the absurdity of the MSM/Belway Media claim to be "objective."

12/26/2005 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

...the only deception larger than the aforementioned MSM one is a self deception:
" I want my blog to grow big at least big enough I can justify the activity to the Empress"
I wish you luck, Marcus! :-)
...even Limbaugh was not rich enough to attain that goal, even after going so far as test it on several diffent subject.

12/26/2005 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...


12/26/2005 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

rwe writes,
" ...mere competency results in "access", which often results in increased popularity and even better competency. "
One result of Limbaugh's position and personality are the number and quality of people feeding him information and perspective.
The famous guests are the exception, and usually unexceptional in the Kabuki dance that follows.

12/26/2005 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger exhelodrvr said...

You are correct is that the wealth of information available today creates it's own issues. (I hesitate to call them problems.) But at least there is a choice now.
People who really care about the truth will make an effort to be aware of their own innate biases, and the biases of their information sources, and compensate by taking input from sources that provide the missing input.

Unfortunately, for the most part the MSM doesn't want to play that game.

12/26/2005 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...


Yeah, you are probably right but the Empress tolerates my activity on the computer quite well as it stands, but I would like to place a check at her feet every now and then to show the effort isn't just a time waster.

I have other blogs aside from Blogger Beer. I run one on the UST-Singers, one on skiing in Wisconsin, and one related to my NEW Bayanihan activities as well as websites for my mother's business and NEW Bayanihan's website.

12/26/2005 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger Mannning said...

Fame, access, adulation, advising leaders, more listeners and readership, appearances on TV, lucrative lectures and substantial increases in pay per word or appearance await the journalist that manages to stay in the limelight despite (or because of)editorial or industrial bias diluting his or her works. This cannot help but inject bias into the all too human journalist's work.

For someone to remain truly independent, he must hide in the shadows, the weeds, and the boonies, as do many bloggers with something of import to say. It also helps if they have independent means, and do not aspire to grow their wealth or their fame.

The blogging media will continue to be a forum that amplifies or counters the biases of the MSM, and allows more and more hiders to participate in the discussion of issues, and to nail the liars we encounter.

Ever wider associations of respected bloggers with worldwide connections and strong, consistent viewpoints are the next major contribution to the practice of journalism. One can observe a strong networking of left and right-thinking bloggers now, and this will continue to grow and tier down to the shadow, hider bloggers everywhere.

The "respected bloggers" have a duty to guide their subtiers (their audience) to other bloggers and posts that they have vetted as either worthwhile or not. We will thus end up with massive trusted networks of clearly diverse opinions, and it is then up to the blog reader to follow his predilictions and to form his own opinions on issues of the day.

That money is an objective at the top of the pyramids is a fact. Second and subsequent tiers of a net will have to be alert to "drifts" by the top away from the strong opinions that got them there in the first place, in my opinion.

12/26/2005 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger jjorsett said...

Personally, I'd pay $2000 to a bomb technician for his opinion on which wire to cut ...

12/26/2005 11:52:00 AM  
Blogger Mannning said...

Pay him afterwords.

12/26/2005 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger Mannning said...


12/26/2005 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

" When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. "

- Liberty Valance

12/26/2005 04:02:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

These discussions often conflate 'reporting' of news with analysis and opinion.

Krugman and Limbaugh are 'funded' by their respective audiences and advertisers to deliver what those respective audiences expect to hear. Similarly, newspaper editorial page bias and the often slanted output of some think tanks are accepted and understood.

In this regard, blog analysis 'funded' by tip jar donations is little different. And, whether the output is 'paid' for or not, it is clearly opinion/analysis and should stand or fall on its incisiveness, soundness of documentation and, ultimately, its prescience and track record.

Far more troublesome is the subversion of content purporting to be 'news' and the trading of access in return for suppressing news.

Here, Big Media colludes with (props up?) repugnant regimes by failing to report the truth, while subscribers and viewers 'subsidize' the maunfacture of analysis masquerading as news coverage.

Next to this, a paid blogger is of little concern.

12/27/2005 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Only wish you had posted that earlier, Cosmo.
To the point, which sometimes got lost here, I think.

12/27/2005 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

Thanks, Doug.

12/27/2005 11:25:00 AM  
Blogger The Mad Fiddler said...

Dear Wretchard,

A casual scan of my own little-read blog would reveal a number of favorable references to your website. Any of the seven or eight people that have visited my site will tell you that out of the sixty-odd essays I’ve posted, some ten percent of them either link to or acknowledge the influence of one of your postings.

This probably will not swell your head overmuch, but I would still caution you to consider the sage wisdom of any merchant who’s survived in business for more than a few years: “One discontented customer will tell everyone he meets of my shortcomings; those whom I’ve satisfied usually think they’ve done me a great service in telling me and no one else!”

The question of whether “paid” equates to “tainted” in published opinion is a good one. It has always been a good one, and can be raised as legitimately in relation to all the leftward-inclined writing by so-called traditional journalists, as to any new media blogger.

Finishing high school in 1967 I entered college less than a decade before the Watergate furor made celebrities of two reporters for the Washington Post. But the phrase “The Imperial Media” had already been coined to describe the smug sanctimony of American Journalists, who are constitutionally protected from sanction by the government they villify. (In other countries, the phrase Imperial Press is meant to name whichever official bureaucracy is responsible for printing warrants and official documents and such.)

I remember being advised by high-school counselors of those days — with multiple independent confirmation of the wisdom from college students at various institutions — that if hard sciences or intellectually taxing programs such as computer science, psychology, philosophy, english, foreign languages, or art were too demanding or rigorous, one could always depend on sailing through to an easy baccalaureate with a degree in journalism.

The idea that journalists are to be respected and taken seriously seems to date from the release of the movie featuring heart-throb Robert Redford and pal Dustin Hoffman as brave saviors of the Republic against the Satanic Nixon. Since that time, tens of thousands of leftists have been teethed on copies of the Pentagon Papers, and fancied themselves to be modern Saints George to the conservative Dragon... avenging slayers of the hideous crypto-fascist Rightwingers. Too bad their toidy training was more advanced than their training in journalism.

12/30/2005 12:14:00 PM  

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