Purchasing Pundits

Because the news filter does matter. Many moons ago, I noted that a certain precious pundit appeared to be cashing in on his punditudeness. Well, seven years later, and we still have this problem (boldface mine):

A review of several trade group meetings occurring over the next three months finds representatives of NBC News, MSNBC, CNN, CBS, ABC, Showtime, and USA Today among the speakers. The groups include top lobbyists for the health insurance, banking, hospital, petrochemical, and pharmaceutical industries. This has become an alternative source of revenue, one that’s never disclosed when media members subsequently talk about the issues that are the primary concern of the lobbying group that just paid them.

Frequently, the speeches are framed like the Chris Wallace event at the Association for Accessible Medicines, with the speaker providing a “view from Washington” on the issues of the day. “There are hundreds of people coming to our event from outside of the ‘D.C. bubble’ who will benefit from hearing the insights of someone like Mr. Wallace or his peers,” says Allen Goldberg of the Association for Accessible Medicines, who adds that Wallace doesn’t report on the generic or biosimilar medicines industry, so there’s no possible conflict of interest. (Of course, drug prices and health care in general are major political topics that Wallace will undoubtedly cover this year.)

Of course, any political strategist or media personality is probably the least-informed person in a room full of lobbyists on how Washington actually works. Representatives of top industries have far more political intelligence at their disposal than someone who spends most of their time preparing to go on CNN for a 10-minute segment.

So why would trade groups pay media figures for, at best, superfluous and banal information masquerading as political intelligence? One likely answer is that it hooks in the speakers to residual appreciation for the industry line on key issues. “If you give someone $50,000-$100,000 for a half-hour speech,” says Robert McChesney, author and professor of communication at the University of Illinois, “then when you want to talk to them about your issues, there’s a greater likelihood of them taking that call. It’s just smart business. And that’s why it’s ethically dubious.

If you wonder why the media landscape is so opposed to things like Medicare for All, or so blind to the risks of a warming planet, the buckraking at industry conferences could offer a rationale.

It might help if media personalities wore patches like race car drivers do.

This entry was posted in Bidness, News Media. Bookmark the permalink.