Conflicts of Interest: Scholars as Paid Shills

Muncie, Indiana – Had to share this article from Bill Moyers about the practices used by Wall Street to influence policies meant to regulate them. As you can imagine, after the financial collapse in 2008, Dodd-Frank put together a rather extensive financial sector regulation package. Due to the negative global impact done by the fraudulent actions of the banks, the new regulations were designed to prevent another financial meltdown.

Although, while the Banksters transactions were ultimately a disaster for the global economy, many of them were extraordinary profit-making schemes.

So, Wall Street hires scholars to argue against the regulations imposed as having a negative impact on their ability to make money creatively, but as the author uncovers, these scholars don’t convey their conflicts of interest. They give expert testimony in Washington, but don’t disclose they’ve been hired by firms who benefit from their testimony.

This ties in to our stance on local newspapers.

Gannett Media, owner of The StarPress and The IndyStar do exactly the same thing in their Indiana newspapers. They allow Andrea Neal and Cecil Bohannon, from the Indiana Policy Network, to write as experts on public policy for both state and federal levels. Although Michael Hicks isn’t part of the Indiana Policy Network, his views are clearly of the same free-market mindset.

The problem is these “experts” are paid shills from the ultra conservative right-wing – less government is better. As Muncie Voice has pointed out numerous times, their articles aren’t always supported by evidence or facts, so they are really opinion pieces. While Gannett moves them around in their pages, they don’t convey their conflicts. Readers look at credentials and assume they’re providing an unbiased perspective.

As we pointed out, Cecil Bohannon and Andrea Neal work for the Indiana Policy Network which is directly linked to the Koch brothers and the anti-government tea party anarchists. The Koch brothers donations go to pay their salaries.

The journalism industry is supposed to be independent and free so it can hold both the public and private sectors accountable. The expressed intent of our founders were politicians and the free press are to serve the citizens of this country. If we want to maintain our democratic principles, a free and independent press is essential.

Gannett slants their newspaper to the far right to appeal to its perception of what the readers want in Indiana and not to offend business advertisers. They don’t want to upset either, so they make sure their paper conveys a message that is “conservative”. However, in doing so, they are being both biased and dishonest. The truth doesn’t work this way, so by always sharing stories from one perspective truly undermines the ethical principles of our industry.

After what happened in 2008, we insist the financial sector must be held accountable to avoid another global meltdown, so why are scholars being leased out to Wall Street to manipulate our elected officials?  Why are the leaders of our educational institutions allowing their professors to intentionally deceive the public?

Academia must be held to a higher standard, especially when it comes to knowledge sharing. If conclusions are shaped for the donors, or payers of the research, these conflicts of interest must be disclosed to protect the integrity of the institutions these professors represent.

Our public officials need to be informed of conflicts, and subscribers of the newspaper need to know about conflicts so they can expect the viewpoint of the writer.

Gathering information has never been easier. However, we also know there is a lot of deception going on by large organizations who create friendly or neutral sounding names, but they are funded by extremists to peddle false information – it’s a new twist to the market principle of “Let the buyer beware”.

However, newspapers should be qualifying the rhetoric published and our educational institutions should require their professors do the same. They have the resources and should disclose conflicts and financial arrangements influencing the information they are passing along to the public and our elected officials.

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.

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