Bloomberg.com, conflicts of interest, corruption, hedge funds, idea laundering, Im-Politic, James K. Glassman, journalism, lobbying, Mainstream Media, Nick Confessore, special interests, The Washington Monthly, think tanks
Since I’m a great believer in giving credit where it’s due, I feel honor-bound to report that I just learned that a development I thought I first identified (along with a catchy name) wasn’t spotted first by me after all. At the same time, it’s also a pleasure to make this confession, because it creates a golden opportunity to recommend two excellent pieces of journalism that shine much needed additional light on this development – which has tremendously deepened corruption in American policymaking.
The development? “Idea laundering” – which I’ve defined as the now widespread practice of special interests (like corporations) using think tanks to issue materials that push the particular agendas of these funders while garbing them in quasi-academic raiment to create the impressions of objectivity and intellectual respectability. In other words, it’s become practically standard operating procedure in the policy world for outfits with scholarly-sounding names like “The Brookings Institution” to put out reports and articles that flack for the companies and other donors (now including foreign governments) that pay the rent without disclosing the hand that’s feeding them. Just as bad, journalists almost never reveal these conflicts of interest – or even ask about them.
I thought that I was the first to spotlight and name this deception, in 2006 testimony before Congress on Chinese influence-peddling operations in America. But yesterday, while reading a terrific piece on Bloomberg.com on how hedge funds have been using an especially insidious variant of the practice, I learned that it was first described in a 2003 Washington Monthly article by Nick Confessore, who is now a reporter for The New York Times. Interestingly, the individual at the center of both articles is James K. Glassman, a long-time fixture in the Washington, D.C. chattering class scene who Confessore credited with pioneering this deceitful new version of lobbying.
I do believe that I’ve been writing and warning about idea laundering more than anyone else. But I’m glad to acknowledge publicly that I was beaten to the punch when it comes to parenthood. It’s also great to see that more and more journalists are looking underneath the hood of the writings and Congressional and media appearances that so profoundly shape America’s approach to virtually all foreign and domestic issues.
Unfortunately, as made clear by this recent post, we’re a long way from the point at which reporters name the donors routinely, and when editors demand this vital information just as often. Until they do, the idea launderers and their paymasters will keep winning far too many victories at the expense of Main Street Americans.