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Hit Piece Journalism at The New York Times

Front-page editorials, disguised as news stories, have become such familiar features of the New York Times that it should have been no surprise to discover in the December 28th issue a front-page story about a professor of finance at the University of Houston who has been a paid consultant to financial enterprises.

Since professors of all sorts have been paid consultants to organizations of all sorts, it is questionable why this was a story at all, much less one that covered an entire inside page, in addition to a central front-page opening, under the headline “Academics Who Defend Wall St. Reap Reward.”

Do academics who attack Wall Street, as consultants to government agencies or other organizations, not get paid?

Like the corrupt French official in the movie classic “Casablanca,” the New York Times is “shocked, shocked” to discover that consultants get paid defending the kinds of people that the New York Times attacks.

Where has the New York Times been all these years, as government agencies of all sorts spend the taxpayers’ money not only to hire consultants but also to hand out research grants to professors, institutions and programs that promote the kinds of policies that serve the institutional interests of these agencies?

Back when I was an economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, many years ago, officials there spoke in reverential tones about Professor Richard A. Lester, an economist at Princeton University who sometimes came down to Washington to advise the Department.

Although many other economists argued that minimum wage laws increased unemployment, especially among young unskilled workers, Professor Lester had questioned whether minimum wages had the bad effects that other economists said they had.

His view was very congenial to the institutional interests of the Department of Labor, a substantial part of whose appropriations and employment was based on its administration of the minimum wage law.

In fairness to Professor Lester, there is no reason whatever to think that his views were based on the money he got from the government. His views were undoubtedly what they were, well before they came to the attention of the Labor Department, which then decided that he was someone whose services they wanted.

The real corruption comes from arming government agencies with the taxpayers’ money to hire consultants and give research grants to academics and others whose views serve the interests of those particular government agencies, as distinguished from serving the interests of the public from whom these taxes are extracted.

Does anyone seriously believe that those government agencies that stand to see their powers and money increased if the “global warming” agenda prevails will be handing out research grants impartially to both those climate scientists who agree with that agenda and those who disagree?

As someone who used to do some consulting, I once encountered the attitude exhibited in the New York Times “news” story. In a case in which I was testifying against a government policy, the opposing attorney demanded to know how much I was being paid.

When I told her, her immediate and sarcastic response was: “Is that what the traffic will bear?”

“I certainly hope not,” I said. “The whole point of charging what I do is to ration my time.” I had undoubtedly been selected as a consultant because my previous writings showed which side of the issue I was on already.

The central target of the New York Times hit piece was Professor Craig Pirrong, whom it says “had financial ties to both sides” of a dispute over financial speculation. Despite this, the repeated insinuation was that he has a conflict of interest.

If both sides are willing to pay him for consulting, where is the conflict? No matter what side he takes on a particular issue, somebody is going to pay him — as people who work in any capacity usually expect to get paid, even people who write hit pieces for the New York Times.

What is really corrupting is camouflaging an editorial as a “news” story — and acting as if people who represent one side of a controversial issue are somehow less worthy than people who represent the opposite side that happens to be favored by the New York Times.

  • http://hotair.com/ SwiperTheFox

    This article here is just wrong. What the NYT drew attention to was fraudulent refusal to disclose information. The newspaper promoted exposing academics that get paid for doing X, Y, and Z things and then either lie about it or deliberately mislead about that fact.

    For Pete’s sake, in this very article supposedly criticizing the NYT, Sowell breaks his own rule! He states that, when asked, he promptly disclosed what he was being paid and who was paying him!

    For the life of me, I can’t see why pro-free-market activists can’t do the right thing and be honest about what they believe, how they get paid, and who’s paying them. How is this not a good thing as part of generally promoting free inquiry? Why is keeping information secret supposedly such a good thing or pro-free-market activists?

  • writeby

    I think you may have missed the point. The issue is the argument of smear. If one gets paid by an oil company to offer facts defending, say, fracking, we are to dismiss those facts as products of bias. No need to refute those facts; just attack the messenger.

    This is ad hominem argument, plain & clear.

    Moreover, we are to regard those academes as somehow dishonest for not having disclosed their associations with the oil company.

    Again, ignore the facts; smear the messenger.

    There’s a deeper issue here, however. The belief that objectivity means disinterested or neutral. Therefore, if one’s self-interest is involved, one cannot be objective. This is pure 19th Century hokum courtesy of Thomas Carlyle.

    Self-interest does not top objectivity if one’s self-interest is rational, that is, motivated by a discovery of the truth. By a selfish interest in revealing the facts.

    Shall we say Galileo was not objective in his opposition to the Catholic Church’s rejection of his theories?

    Shall we say an inventor, Thomas Edison, for instance, was not objective in his assertion that illumination could be achieved through electricity?

    Shall we say that that the agnostic attorney, Clarence Darrow, was not objective in his defense of Scopes?

    What about those who defended Ken Iverson’s idea of creating mini-mills. Would those academics not be capable of objectivity had Nucor hired them to ascertain the likelihood of success using such a strategy?

    What about scientists who defend coal companies because the scientists know man made global warming is fallacious?

    The key here is whether one views truth as the mainstay of one’s self-interest.

    In such a situation, not publicizing one’s hired consultancy is far less significant than one publishing falsehoods. And the way to determine the latter is to let the facts speak for themselves. If they do, what matters if the person illuminating such facts is *not* disinterested or neutral on the issue?

    If postmodern journalists only practiced such self-interested objectivity–their self-interest rooted in reporting *all* the facts–we’d not be treated to smear couched as reportage.

  • writeby

    “This is pure 19th Century hokum courtesy of Thomas Carlyle.”

    His was the practical application of the tenet, by German Idealist philosopher, Immanuel Kant, that Man is incapable of perceiving the “real” reality, which Kant claimed was a supernatural Noumenal dimension that could only be “intuited” by “pure” intellect.

    And Kant got that absurdity from Plato, who posited the existence of a–what else–supernatural dimension of Perfect Forms, which existence was open only to a select few, among them Plato’s Philosopher King.

    Both these philosophers are darlings of the New Left.