Monday, November 23, 2009

Opinion for hire

An important point about the high profile pundits and commentators who seek to mold public opinion:

Where do David Brooks, Juan Cole, Ann Coulter, Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan, Michael Goldfarb, Michelle Malkin, Matt Yglesias, Richard Perle, Steve Clemons, Fred Kagan, or George Will get their money? How much is salary, and how much is derived from honoraria, royalties, or consulting work? And who's paying the bills?

Are these opinion makers' opinions their own or do they tailor (or even manufacture) their opinions because they are being paid to further the interests of others? Is Ann Coulter, for example, perhaps paid to "consult" for defence contractor Boeing? Or is Andrew Sullivan on George Soros's payroll? Without financial disclosure it's impossible to know.

It's important to bear this in mind when reading or listening to high profile pontificators. It's also important to realise that even though the opinion makers write or speak well, or both, they're not necessairly especially well informed and probably aren't any smarter than you are - you must be pretty bright, you read RWDB at Asian Correspondent!

As for my financial interests, AC pays me a modest sum to express my opinions but, other than interevening when I've written something deemed offensive or overly provocative, exercises no control over what I write. Full-time employment is my major source of income but so as to not cause my employer embarrassment I do not write about work-related matters. So the opinions I express do not benefit me financially. I would be delighted to receive money, and lots of it, if any evil right-wing organisation out there is willing to pay me, however.

Anyway, it was Antony Loewenstein's attack on Fairfax columnist Peter Hartcher the other day that got me thinking about this. Even though Hartcher discloses that his opinion piece came after a paid trip to Israel Loewenstein alleges opinion for hire:

Hartcher’s column in yesterday’s Herald reveals yet another episode in the ongoing saga of minimising Israeli crimes.

Hartcher has returned fire:

Every paid trip always has an inbuilt viewpoint. The journalist’s job is to take information from a trip, assess it in the usual way, and to draw on it as one input among many, as we do with every subject, every day.

My column, on the Opinion page, does not purport to be an encyclopaedic treatment of the history of the conflict between Israelis and the Palestinians. It presents, as it says in its opening, a view from within Israel, with an explanation of the Australian Government’s position, and a comment from the Palestinian delegation. I should have thought that to be self-evident. There is no hidden agenda.

You, by contrast, are a declared partisan in the conflict. You are not in any position to act as a neutral analyst or objective commentator. If you critique my piece, you should disclose your interest, as I have mine.

Yes indeed, how can Loewenstein afford to devote so much time and effort to his various causes and travel internationally on what must be a very modest income from writing? Does he have any other sources of income? He should probably also reveal that he once worked for Fairfax, apparently leaving the organisation in rather unfortunate circumstances.


Anonymous Dan Lewis said...

Yes. He certainly should have disclosed that he was fired from Fairfax. Nevertheless, I'm sure Peter Hartcher enjoyed being told how to do his job by this career nobody. Were it not for the fact Loewenstein can claim to have been born Jewish, as part of his anti-Israel crusade, I doubt he'd have any career whatsoever.

Personally, I doubt there's a large conspiracy at play here. He's no Jimmy Carter or even John Pilger. So I doubt he's getting any blood-stained cheques from the Arabs.

I expect he just gets money from his Mummy and Daddy and catches a lot of public transport...

I suspect the Australian taxpayer helps, via Centrelink. How much could the odd piece in Crikey and New Matilda actually pay?

No doubt he'll see your post and this comment as another attempted "smear job" even though it's a perfectly legitimate question to ask (and one which he has no problem asking of others).

Not that he'll bother to respond. But we know he's reading this. Hello Antony.

12:10 PM  

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