Sunday, August 7, 2016

NYT Rips Into Think Tanks for Pay-to-Play Schemes

A new expose entitled "Researchers or Corporate Allies?  Think Tanks Blur the Lines," rips into think tanks, including the world's #1 think tank Brookings Institution, for essentially being the mouthpieces of corporations.

It was written by Eric Lipton of The New York Times (NYT) and Brooke Williams, a reporter at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR) - a small nonprofit outlet that equally collaborated with NYT for the series.

They were the same duo (along with Nicholas Confessore) who wrote the hugely popular 2014 piece entitled "Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks."

The piece was written based, among other things, on more than 2,600 documents secretly obtained from Brookings Institution's internal files.

The second part of the so-called "Think Tanks Inc." series was released the afternoon of August 8.  That piece is entitled "Think Tank Scholar or Corporate Consultant?  It Depends on the Day."

In that piece, NYT/NECIR note that the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) has recently fired three scholars for violations of its conflicts-of-interest policy.

Reaction so far:

  • Jeffrey Sachs says: "As I have said months ago, Brookings has sold its name, and not only to corporations but to foreign governments. 
  • Robert Reich says: "Always, always follow the money. When expert think tanks issue reports, find out who funds the reports and be..."
  • Ezra Klein says: "This is tremendous, unnerving reporting by the NYT on pay-for-play within the think tank world."
  • Nick Confessore says: "If you doubt what you're seeing, ask yourself why companies don't just publish their own reports."
  • Michael Tracey, a VICE columnist, says: "Very good look into the scam of taxpayer-subsidized think tanks like Brookings acting as de facto lobbying orgs."
  • Elizabeth Joh says: "This investigation into corporate influence at think tanks = huge warning for academics relying on their research." 
  • Scott Shane of NYT says: "Reminder to journalists seeking unbiased expertise: Be careful of think tanks!" 
  • Michael Tackett of NYT says: "Some think tank scholars wear a second hat: registered lobbyist."
  • Timothy Noah of Politico says: "I wonder whether Brookings understands how devastating a blow this story is to its hard-won credibility. 
  • Graham Brown-Martin's piece on Medium: "Brookings, Seriously?" 
  • Ryan Evans has 14-point tweetstorm on NYT piece. 
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) weighs in.
  • Here is some reaction from Gawker. 
  • Mic says: "A Major DC Think Tank Has Sold Out to Corporations."
  • Observer has an opinion piece entitled "Think Tank Smells Like Corporate Money for Clinton." 
  • Politico's Morning Energy covers the energy angle from the NYT piece. 
  • Forbes: Why think tanks now have a credibility problem
  • CorpWatch on General Dynamics funding of think tanks mentioned in NYT piece. 
  • Inside Philanthropy: The Fall of the Think Tank - Policy Wonks and the Hard Realities of Interested Monies. 
  • TPM: Deep Lobbying. 
  • SFGate: "Warning: Dangerous Think Tanks Ahead." 
  • Daily Caller: "Defense scholars caught lobbying for contractors." 
  • Daily Caller: "Net Neutrality Policy Analysts Caught Red-Handed on Big Tech's Payroll."

In response to the NYT/NECIR piece, the conservative think tank Hudson Institute has issued a statement in an attempt to clarify some of its corporate funding.

And Brookings has now weighed in, issuing its own rebuttal to the NYT/NECIR piece in Medium.  Brookings said the article "fundamentally misrepresents" its mission and distorts how it operates.  Brookings says that the article "cherry-picked" information and "ignored a large body of evidence" made available to the reporters.  Here is an updated rebuttal with testimonials included.

Brookings says that in the coming days it will provide a point-by-point rebuttal of the allegations made in the article.

In February 2016 Brookings chief Strobe Talbott and Kimberly Churches, Managing Director at Brookings, wrote a piece entitled "Safeguarding Independence in an Era of Restricted Giving."

Middle East Forum (MEF) has also issued a statement saying it accepts no pay-to-play funds from businesses. 

More will be coming soon, including further reaction and our favorite excerpts from the piece...