The conflicts of interest and corporate interests lurking behind op-eds in 2017
Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI
Media Matters has documented this year how op-ed pieces that have appeared in newspapers and online publications have frequently failed to inform readers about their authors’ financial conflicts of interest; and when corporate-backed entities have deceived editors and readers with cut-and-paste jobs supposedly by different writers.
Here are seven examples from this year:
Several newspapers published op-eds by state directors for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) that pushed for the Republicans’ wildly unpopular tax plan. But those opinion pieces were virtually identical despite supposedly being written by different authors. Here, for example, is a composite image that compares the texts of a November 17 op-ed by Kansas state director Dan Murray and another op-ed by its West Virginia state director Gil White from November 26:
The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate Committee on Finance and Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office both touted NFIB pieces, implying they represented a “drumbeat” of support for the bill by “real Americans.”
Mother Jones has written that NFIB is a "front group" that's been "leading the fight against taxing the rich." NFIB has also received money from organizations backed by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch.
Editors told Media Matters that the lobbying group didn’t inform them they were using the same language elsewhere and had they known they wouldn’t have run the pieces.
Procter & Gamble placed virtually identical op-eds arguing for corporate tax cuts, supposedly written by different manufacturing plant managers, in newspapers across the country. Here, for example, is a composite image that compares the texts of two different op-eds placed in separate newspapers on November 24 and December 10 respectively (the News & Record later added an editor's note to the top of the piece online):
The White House and Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) both promoted P&G op-eds. In comments to Media Matters, some of the editors of newspapers that ran the virtually identical op-eds criticized the company for their tactics, with one saying the company would be blacklisted from the paper.
Media outlets published anti-net neutrality op-eds from telecom-backed groups without disclosing the groups’ financial connections
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently voted along party lines to repeal net neutrality rules, which ensure that everyone has open and fair access to the internet. The nonprofit group Free Press, which is challenging the vote in court, criticized the FCC for abdicating its “authority over internet service providers and clearing the way for blocking, throttling and discrimination by the nation’s largest phone and cable companies.”
Media Matters documented this year that media outlets routinely provided media space to anti-net neutrality groups without disclosing that they’ve received funding from the telecommunications industry, which stands to financially benefit from repealing the pro-consumer rules.
Outlets across the country ran pro-pipeline op-eds without disclosing the writer’s financial ties to the pipeline industry
Numerous publications ran pro-pipeline op-eds from retired Gen. James “Spider” Marks without disclosing his financial ties to a security contractor that provides security for the pipeline industry.
Marks is the advisory board chair for the international security firm TigerSwan. He’s also done work for the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now (MAIN), whose members include oil and gas companies.
He wrote opinion pieces in the Daily Caller and Washington Examiner and in several publications based in areas where there is significant debate about pipeline construction, including the Omaha World-Herald, PennLive, and the Daily Advertiser (of Lafayette, LA). After Media Matters contacted the publications, the Omaha World-Herald, PennLive, and Washington Examiner added disclosures noting Marks’ connection to TigerSwan. PennLive’s opinion editor later stated that Marks was banned from the publication because he misled them and if he had disclosed his connection to TigerSwan, the piece wouldn’t have run.
The Wash. Post continued to employ a lobbyist as a writer; Media Matters identified at least 12 times they didn't disclose his conflicts of interest
Megalobbyist Ed Rogers repeatedly used his position as a Washington Post opinion writer to push his clients’ interests.
Rogers heads the BGR Group, one of the country’s largest lobbying firms with clients that include the government of Saudi Arabia and major corporations. The Post uses him as a regular contributor to its PostPartisan blog and syndicates his work to publications across the country despite the numerous conflicts of interest his lobbying gig presents. Rogers’ corporate biography even touts his Post affiliation to potential clients, stating: “Since 2011, Ed has been an opinion writer for the Washington Post, where he writes about politics and the current state of affairs in Washington, D.C., from a Republican point of view.”
Media Matters this year identified over a dozen instances in which the Post failed to inform readers that Rogers was pushing the interests of his lobbying clients. The conflict-of-interest areas range from Saudi Arabia to the economy and environmental issues.
Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt told Media Matters that the Post wasn’t “initially clear enough with Ed on our expectations” but defended the Post and Rogers, and disputed “some” of Media Matters’ examples.
Newt Gingrich used his Fox position to push for-profit colleges without disclosing his conflict of interest
Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich wrote op-eds for FoxNews.com in which he pushed for-profit college talking points without any disclosure that he has worked as a consultant for that industry’s main lobbying organization, Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU).
Under President Trump’s administration, as Politico reported, “for-profit colleges are winning their battle to dismantle Obama-era restrictions as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rolls back regulations, grants reprieves to schools at risk of losing their federal funding and stocks her agency with industry insiders.” Gingrich has been a part of that effort and has used his media platform to advocate rolling back protections for students.
Gingrich, who has a long history of ethical problems as both a politician and pundit, wrote FoxNews.com op-eds in December 2016 and again in March of this year that didn’t disclose his financial connections to the industry. Media Matters sent requests for comment to Fox News about the lack of disclosures. Fox did not respond but subsequently added editor’s notes about Gingrich’s conflict of interest.
Former Sen. George Allen regularly appeared in the media to defend manufacturers on taxes and regulations without disclosure that he works for them
Former Sen. and Gov. George Allen (R-VA) has repeatedly written op-eds that defend the manufacturing industry on issues ranging from the environment to taxes without the publications disclosing that he works for the National Association of Manufacturers. The group, which describes itself as “the largest manufacturing association in the United States,” frequently works to oppose regulations against the industry and has worked to pass the GOP’s wildly unpopular tax bill.
Allen wrote op-eds in 2016 and 2017 in publications such as The Hill, Daily Caller, Richmond Times-Dispatch, and The Washington Times in which he pushed manufacturing industry talking points against government regulations without any disclosure.
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