Force politicians and media to wear sponsor logos on their clothes

Months ago, someone on suggested members of Congress should be required to wear their major campaign contributors' corporate logos on their jackets, just as NASCAR drivers do. A brilliant idea.

But while reading this horrifying expose of corporate mouthpieces pontificating on major media outlets while posing as independent experts, rather than corporate public relations agents, I realized that our media’s longstanding refusal to disclose who’s paying for the speech coming from their purported “experts'” mouths forces us to demand logo jackets for anyone appearing on network or cable news broadcasts too.

Consider this, which occurred December 4, 2009:

Tom Ridge, was on MSNBC’s Hardball With Chris Matthews… The first step, Ridge explained, was to “create nuclear power plants.” Combined with some waste coal and natural gas extraction, you would have an “innovation setter” that would “create jobs, create exports.”

As Ridge counseled the administration to “put that package together,” he sure seemed like an objective commentator. But what viewers weren’t told was that since 2005, Ridge has pocketed $530,659 in executive compensation for serving on the board of Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear power company. As of March 2009, he also held an estimated $248,299 in Exelon stock, according to SEC filings.

Moments earlier, retired general and “NBC Military Analyst” Barry McCaffrey told viewers that the war in Afghanistan would require an additional “three- to ten-year effort” and “a lot of money.” Unmentioned was the fact that DynCorp paid McCaffrey $182,309 in 2009 alone. The government had just granted DynCorp a five-year deal worth an estimated $5.9 billion to aid American forces in Afghanistan. The first year is locked in at $644 million, but the additional four options are subject to renewal, contingent on military needs and political realities.

In a single hour, two men with blatant, undisclosed conflicts of interest had appeared on MSNBC.

The Nation has found that:

Since 2007 at least seventy-five registered lobbyists, public relations representatives and corporate officials—people paid by companies and trade groups to manage their public image and promote their financial and political interests—have appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNBC and Fox Business Network with no disclosure of the corporate interests that had paid them. Many have been regulars on more than one of the cable networks, turning in dozens—and in some cases hundreds—of appearances.

The article closes by noting that this issue has been exposed repeatedly in recent years, yet nothing much has changed:

[P]ressure applied on the networks so far has not resulted in systemic change. Even in the aftermath of increasing scrutiny—particularly after David Barstow’s Pulitzer Prize-winning exposés in the Times—General McCaffrey continues to appear on television without any caveats about his work for military contractors. As Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald has observed, none of the networks involved in the scandal have ever bothered to address Barstow’s findings on air, and they noticeably omitted Barstow’s name from coverage of the 2009 Pulitzers. “It’s almost like a mysterious black hole that this issue, which is enormous, is getting no attention from the offenders themselves,” the Society for Professional Journalists' ethics committee chair Andy Schotz told me recently.

Jay Rosen, a media critic and journalism professor at New York University, has a different take. “More disclosure is good—I’m certainly in favor of that—but why are these people on at all?” asks Rosen. “They have views and can manufacture opinions around any event at any time.”

Rosen echoes something Brown mentioned to me. Watching cable news cover the 2008 election with more analysts crammed at one table than ever before—as if to ask, “How many people can we put on the set at one time?”—Brown said he was “amazed how little they had to offer.” He went on, “We live in a time where there are no shortages of opinions and an incredible deficit of facts.”

Posted by James on Sunday, February 14, 2010