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Sep 14, 2008


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"And yes, the same logic applies to columns churned out by liberal groups."

Except that you never complained about it before as it applied to liberal groups.

Under your rule, the N&R needs to identify you as a "liberal/progressive Democrat blogger". Is that okay with you? Otherwise one might believe that Ed Cone is a neutral, good government type instead of a partisan Democrat.

In fact, I fully support your idea and believe the N&R should apply it to ALL of their columnists.
What say you, Ed?

James Protzman

I'm not entirely sure why, but I have a slightly different standard for unaffiliated individuals versus individuals representing organizations. If I ever wrote something, I'd expect it to say: "One of the founders of BlueNC, James Protzman is a radical left-wing activist." In the case of Ed, I'd settle for: "For more about Ed Cone, visit edcone.com."

On a scale of 1 to 10 where "10" means "blind pursuit of a fact-free ideological agenda, I would rate Civitas "12." Ed, on the other hand, I'd rate "2."

Ed Cone

I see a difference between an individual who expresses his own opinions, and a paid mouthpiece for an agenda-driven organization.

This seems likely to be more of an issue as the N&R spends less for opinion pieces and thus turns more to opinion mills for content.


Unsurprisingly, I agree with some of what James wrote (above). If a person's livelihood comes from an organization that advocates a political or similar position, then that relationship should be identified clearly in an opinion/commentary piece. (This leaves Ed out of the identifying loop as described above; we all know he rakes in millions from this blog :) However, I do remember a second-opinion piece by the ED of the Cemala Foundation (who used to be the ED of Action Greensboro) and she was not identified in her former role in the print version of the paper, something I thought was at worst misleading, but at best, it identified her *current* position and I'm not sure what their policy is on *former* positions, even if it might impact someone's impression of her piece. I'll let the N&R comment on that.

What would be nice is a link to the organization at least on the online N&R so readers could determine for themselves what they want to think of the organization that employs the particular "pundit." [Am beginning to hate that undefined word.]


"What would be nice is a link to the organization at least on the online N&R so readers could determine for themselves what they want to think of the organization that employs the particular "pundit."

There is a link (now, anyway) at the bottom of Balfour's article. Unfortunately, these folks are masters at concealing their true intent. Unless you click the tiny "about" link at the top or bottom of the page, you won't see this:

"The vision of the Civitas Institute is of a North Carolina whose citizens enjoy liberty and prosperity derived from limited government, personal responsibility and civic engagement. The mission of the Civitas Institute is to facilitate the implementation of conservative policy solutions to improve the lives of all North Carolinians."

At least that second part should be attached to any article that makes it to print (or online) in any news outlet.

And this would be even more helpful:

"BRIAN BALFOUR joins the Civitas Institute as a policy analyst specializing in budget and taxation issues. He most recently worked for the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation in Washington, D.C., as a tax policy associate."

Followed by:


"Koch Industries, a conglomerate with major oil and gas holdings, is the second-largest privately-held company in the United States. It is also the recipient of the largest civil fine ever imposed on a corporation for violating federal environmental laws. During the 1990s, the company's leaky pipelines were responsible for more than 300 oil spills in five states, prompting a penalty of $30 million. In 1996, a faulty pipeline caused an explosion outside of Dallas in which two teenagers were killed. In a lawsuit related to the deaths, a trial court returned a judgement of $376.69 million against the company.

The most serious charges against the company, however, were brought by the U.S. Department of Justice. Last fall, Koch Industries and four employees were indicted on 97 counts of violating federal clean air and hazardous waste laws. Government prosecutors accuse the company of intentionally releasing fumes from benzene -- a suspected carcinogen -- into the atmosphere and then lying about it to state regulators in Texas. If convicted, the company could be fined up to $352 million.

That "if" depends in large part on whether the Bush administration prosecutes the case. David Koch and his wife Julie gave every penny of their $487,500 in campaign contributions during the last election cycle to the Republican Party, its candidates, and conservative political action committees. If President Bush follows through on his campaign promises to loosen environmental protections and limit jury awards against corporations found guilty of wrongdoing, the money that Koch Industries saves on fines and legal damages could make those political contributions look like pocket change."

And they ended up paying 20 million...


"I see a difference between an individual who expresses his own opinions, and a paid mouthpiece for an agenda-driven organization."

What is exactly is that difference, Ed, other than you not being a paid mouthpiece for yourself? A mouthpiece is a mouthpiece, paid or not. If it is the money that concerns you, then how about "Person X is a paid member of organization X"?

Apply your standard to the National Organization of Women. How would you credit them in such a piece? Would you point out that they are a liberal organization? What about the NAACP?

You seem to want a selective transparency that shields individuals with agendas, but not those who join a group that has a common agenda. The task is to inform the reader that there is an agenda, so I see no difference at all.

Ed Cone

I'm free to say whatever I please. My "brand" is established by what I write, and have written on a regular basis in the paper for more than a decade.

Someone writing for a "think tank" may well be constrained by the purposes and beliefs of that organization.

Thus some transparency the purposes and beliefs of organizations seem to be worth pursuing.


It still comes back to an agenda. If you say the person has a agenda because of their affiliation, then it is either the agenda of the individual, the organization, or both. I don't see any substantive difference. You are essentially saying that the reader needs to be notified that the perspective of the writer may be skewed by that person's affiliation. Is that really important for the reader? I.E., "well he's a member of Civitas, that explains it". How is that different than "well Ed Cone is a liberal Democrat, that explains it". Hey, I'm all for it as long as it is applied to everyone and applied accurately.

Tony Wilkins

Ed Cone Sept 10:"Surely. No way that's a tired talking point from the chronic-complainer department."
Tee hee. Kidding.


Sam, Ed gave the answer in the body of the post:

"A reader might think the Civitas Insitute is a neutral good-government group."

There is a big difference in the way we value the opinion of an individual and that of a collective. When that collective has a respectable-sounding name, the difference is even greater.

The average person (not cynics like us) equates the term "institute" with high-level learning. That same person is also likely to connect Civitas with local clubs that do good works and/or the term "civic" which translates to the average person as, "by citizens and for citizens". Ergo, the name itself imparts a level of credibility and integrity that may not actually be present.

Conservative think-tanks aren't the only entities to use trust-evoking titles like this, but they've perfected the art. The Manhattan Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institute, etc., all have one thing in common: their research and publications are agenda-driven and corporate-funded, but most people aren't (made) aware of that when they are exposed to the product of said research.


Okay, so we can identify the "respectable sounding" National Organization for Women as a "liberal interest group"? Or the NAACP the same way? What about the ACLU? People For The American Way? Center for Economic and Policy Research? Economic Policy Institute? Seems to me that liberals have perfected the nice sounding names masking a hidden agenda as well.

I still haven't heard why having columnists identify their own political agendas and or allegiances is a bad idea. The question you raise about integrity would apply equally to individuals.


Ed isn't paid to generate columns with a praticular slant, neither are Sowell or Brooks. You are getting the individual's opinion. In the case of Civitas and other organizations, the individual is being paid to generate columns with aparticular slant. That's the difference. Seems pretty obvious to me.

And yeah, calling your oranization the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People really masks the purpose of the organization. Those sly dogs.

Ed Cone

Actually, Sowell is employed by a conservative think-tank, which may help explain his redundant, doctrinaire columns.


In the end, what is the substantive difference? If the goal is to let the reader know whether they are getting it straight, that should apply to everyone, individual or organization. And still nobody has presented an argument as to why extending disclosure to individuals is a bad idea.


I'm not sure it is a bad idea, Sam. I can recall when OpEd pages used to corral conservative and liberal pieces in their own respective column areas, making it easy for the reader to figure out what the writers' political ideologies were. I'd like to see that return, frankly.

And even without that "guide", if these think-tanks' research products were limited to just the OpEds, I wouldn't be nearly as concerned. But they're not. Their biased findings are frequently referenced in straight-up, front-page news articles, and they're also tossed around in Congress to influence public policy.

In the absence of disclosure, people are misled.

Ed Cone

The difference I see is that opinion-mill writers are representing the ideas and agendas of other people.

It's not about labeling a column or columnist "liberal" or "conservative," it's about understanding what the source is. The implications go beyond categorizing the institution by some catch-all label, to things like the funding of the institution.


"The difference I see is that opinion-mill writers are representing the ideas and agendas of other people"

How do you know that? They join think tanks for a reason.

Ed Cone

Perhaps, but that doesn't change the fact that a piece from an opinion mill represents the views of an institution, which in turn may be answerable in some measure to its funders.

I'd like to see more transparency from my local newspaper when it comes to this kind of work.

If individuals writing for the paper are paid to voice a particular opinion, or have direct financial interests in a give subject about which they write, that should be disclosed.


Selective and fallacious:


Ed Cone

FWIW, Max writes for Civitas (as I'm sure he meant to mention), where he no doubt has absolute freedom to publish any opinion, however heterodox, under the imprimatur of the organization.

Newspaper Reader

The Raleigh Telegram identified the Civitas Institute as a "conservative institute" when they ran a study released by the group. How hard was that?

I think the label is pretty accurate and I agree with Ed's notion that it should be applied equally to groups on both sides of the fence.

Robert P.

RE: Max and Spag's arguments:
This only holds true if you could show even ONE example where your "research" disagreed with the bias of your organization and you published and changed your views because of it. If all you do it push out papers and opinions pieces that blindly support your prevailing biases, then you should be identified as someone who does just that.


Max Borders gets so deeply involved in his pseudo-intellectual masturbation that he can't recognize irony when it smacks him on the head:


"How do you win a policy debate? First, be sure you set the terms of the debate. Then develop your arguments cautiously and methodically to suggest that your only purpose is to discover objective facts. To be taken seriously, keep your prose steady and your sources respectable. You are above the fray -- and beyond partisan strife. If the assumptions in your reasoning are controversial, don’t acknowledge the controversy. Instead, suggest that your premises are bipartisan. That will mean your policy conclusions must be acceptable because they are the outgrowth of a political consensus."

"In discussing energy policy, drop names of important people in politics, academia and the corporate world. Your conclusions must surely be right, because a panel of distinguished scholars and statesmen endorses them. Even calling the panel members a “commission” suggests that the participants are commissioned -- pulled with reluctance from their busy lives to solve an urgent world-class problem. Their findings are sure to be top-notch and their policy prescriptions sensible and balanced, forged in the crucible of bipartisanship."

"This is the modus operandi of the National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP).
To win the trust of the public and policymakers, NCEP never deviates from its mien of objectivity. To the public, the organization seems like an independent commission, perhaps set up by Congress. In fact, it’s a pressure group funded by liberal ideological foundations and partisan policy groups. Make no mistake, NCEP is a skillful activist group that has a singular goal: It aims to overhaul the energy business using the heavy hand of government."

Look in the mirror, Max. Or should I add "adjunct scholar at the National Center for Policy Analysis", so readers will be aware just how distinguished you are? :)

And by the way, before you bash on neocon James Woolsey again, you might want to check with your bosses at Civitas/JLF. Woolsey is the darling of the American Enterprise Institute, which is one of the favorite watering holes for your colleagues when they are thirsty for pseudo-scientific bullshit research findings and statistics.

Personally, I'm happy when anyone pokes a stick at former PNAC members, but John Hood might not appreciate having one of his sources sullied. Just looking out for you, Max.

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