Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Reaction to NYT Series on Think Tanks & Corporate Influence

The reaction to the New York Times series on think tanks and influence of corporate money has been one of shock, disappointment, and disbelief.

Thank Tank Watch will be aggregating the reaction in the coming days and weeks and will update this post often.  Here is what we have so far:

Think Tanks:
  • Brookings, which took the brunt of the criticism, issued a quick rebuttal to the NYT piece.  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.  Brookings released its 15-page point-by-point rebuttal the afternoon of August 11.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) issued a statement on August 10 defending its policies but saying that "broader questions being raised by the NYT are legitimate."
  • American Enterprise Institute (AEI) issued a statement on August 8, saying it "long ago instituted and regularly evaluate, policies and procedures to assure the intellectual quality of independence of our work."  The conservative think tank said "it does not believe" a violation of its research integrity standards has occurred.
  • The conservative think tank Hudson Institute has issued a statement in an attempt to clarify some of its corporate funding.
  • Middle East Forum (MEF) has also issued a statement saying it accepts no pay-to-play funds from businesses.  
  • Institute for Policy Studies (IPS): It is "unfortunate" that the NYT series did not name the subset of think tanks like IPS that don't solicit contributions from governments and large corporations, and whose donors don't benefit financially from the research they support. 
  • The conservative Heritage Foundation issued a statement on August 12 saying "it stands for freedom and not special interest," adding "we will not accept research for hire from corporations who wish to pay for particular research projects...In fact, less than 5 percent of our annual revenue is from corporations."

  • Eric Lipton (co-author of series): "The more we looked, the more surprised we were at just how many think tank scholars had other for-profit lives."
  • Eric Lipton: We had to sue State Department to get simple set of email exchanges with think tank scholar.  Why is FOIA so broken? 
  • Eric Lipton discusses think tanks and corporate influence on C-Span the morning of August 11. Says CSIS issued statement about lack of disclosure of corporate ties to event only after he made inquiry.  "I happened to call them on it that one day...but how frequently does that happen?"  Adds: "We did a survey in late 2015 of 25 think tanks and asked them about their policies on conflicts of interests, etc., and even as we were asking those questions the think tanks started to change their policies."
  • Eric Lipton prediction: "I think there is going to be a fair amount of change on outside work that scholars can have as consultants/lobbyists and at same time have a think tank title."
  • Eric Lipton: "I admire Brookings and the work it does but if there are problems at Brookings, it suggests a systemic problem at think tanks." 
  • Eric Lipton: "The term think tank has been somewhat degraded in Washington over the last decade because all the small places that call themselves think tanks but are really advocacy shops." 
  • Eric Lipton: "No real discussion on changing tax-exempt status of think tanks but more disclosure rules in both Congress and the executive branch are possible."
  • Eric Lipton: The think tank series took us two years to write.
  • Nick Confessore (another co-author) says: "If you doubt what you're seeing, ask yourself why companies don't just publish their own reports." 
  • Brooke Williams (co-author) on Majority Report talking about her piece. 
  • Ezra Klein says: "This is tremendous, unnerving reporting by the NYT on pay-for-play within the think tank world."
  • Ryan Evans (War on the Rocks) has 14-point tweetstorm on NYT piece.
  • 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."
  • 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." 
  • Jane Mayer of New Yorker: "Times' expose is great, but as I write in Dark Money, many think tanks have long been Big Donor stink tanks." 
  • Lee Fang (The Intercept): "NYT shows how lobbyists/biz consultants find gigs at think tanks to add an academic veneer to influence peddling."
  • Dan Froomkin (The Intercept): NYT discovers "stink tanks."
  • Brad Heath (USA Today): "Totally normal.  Also, gross."
  • Murtaza Hussain (The Intercept): Fits reality that there are few institutions extant people can really trust. 
  • Dan Simpson (Pittsburgh Post Gazette): Think tanks, in the tank
  • Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias talk "soft corruption" at think tanks and the NYT piece.

  • Politico Influence: "In conversations with downtowners about the NYT think tanks' bombshell, the popular quip was that everyone is shocked, shocked to find out that pay-to-play is going on in Washington.  But it's all too easy to shrug off what everyone already knew once its blown out in the open, and no amount of quoting 'Casablanca' will change the fact that the stories will dim the credibility of think tank research in the eyes of reporters and policy makers."
  • 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."
  • Philadelphia News: Our trust deficit keeps growing.
  • Washington Business Journal: Brookings pushes back against NYT. 
  • Nonprofit Quarterly: Devastating.

  • Elizabeth Joh of UC Davis says: "This investigation into corporate influence at think tanks = huge warning for academics relying on their research." 
  • Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute: I've always imported journalism rules to my think tank work, but maybe time to develop more explicit norms?
  • Miranda Perry Fleischer (University of San Diego): Think tanks must reject donations that cloud their purpose.
  • Carter Price (RAND Corp.): Moonlighting as a lobbyist is not ok.  Shame "revising" COI policy came only after exposed.
  • Dan Drezner (of Tufts) in the Washington Post: What do we know about the independence of think tank research that we didn't a week ago?  [Kelsey Atherton aggregates Drezner's tweetstorm.]
  • Alan Tonelson in response to Drezner: "Laughable claim by Dan Drezner that corporate-funded think tanks are dealing seriously with the transparency issue."
  • Jim Harper (of Cato): "Think tanks trade credibility for corporate support.  So be it.  Watch out if the fix is regulating their funding!" 
  • Heath Brown (a think tank expert at CUNY): "Given NYT coverage of think tanks, perfect timing for Megan Tompkins-Stange new book "Policy Patrons."
  • Amy Liu of Brookings has called the series "misleading." 
  • Kevin Boland Johnson of MSU: "Will C-Span continue to give think tanks generous air time?"
  • Harvey Cox (Harvard): "Their reputation for impartiality has been severely damaged.  Can I ever again trust the reports these think tanks issue?"
  • Rory Medcalf (Australian National University): "Sounds like NYT articles on think tanks say more about the state of journalism than that of think tanks."  [Matt Goodman of CSIS agrees.]
  • Alejandro Chafuen: Brookings should expose interests of corporate owners of NYTimes and compare with NYT editorial positions. 
  • Kathleen Hicks (of CSIS): Great, thoughtful response on the relationship between think tanks  - and all nonprofits - and corporations.

  • David Rockefeller Fund: Tax-exempt think tanks should NOT be advancing narrow corporate interests.  Kudos for the vital reporting.
  • 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..."
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) weighs in.
  • Graham Brown-Martin's piece on Medium: "Brookings, Seriously?" 
  • Robert Faturechi of ProPublica: Journalists need to be more skeptical of experts.
  • Diane Ravitch says it is very sad
  • Bruce Bartlett (former think tanker): "Washington 'think tanks' are cesspools of ethical corruption.  At least lobbyists are honest whores."
  • Zero Hedge: It's one gigantic lawless crime scene
  • Matt Stoller (Senate Budget Committee staffer): Government has gutted its independent research. 
  • Gene Takagi (NEO Law Group): Think tanks need a certification program to establish transparency.
  • David Sullivan: "Is there an industry association for think tanks?" 
  • Triple Pundit: "Reader Beware: Think tanks and universities increasingly for hire by companies." 
  • KQED debate on think tanks with Eric Lipton, James McGann (UPenn) and Bruce Katz (Brookings).
  • Greg Fischer (Mayor of Louisville), Andy Berke (Mayor of Chattanooga), Michael Nutter (former Mayor of Philadelphia), R.T. Rybak (former Mayor of Minneapolis): "We read your characterization of the work of Brookings with great dismay...our cities have had a fruitful, meaningful experience working with Brookings."
  • Ben Myers (in NYT letter to editor): Let's classifiy think tanks as lobbyists and revoke their nonprofit, tax-exempt status. 
  • Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR): "NYT Reveals Think Tank It's Cited for Years to Be Corrupt Arms Booster." 
  • Tom Jeffrey of Think Tank Review: Think tanks need a principled approach to funding and conflicts of interest. 
  • Lou Hoffman: Brookings is not using traditional PR to punch back at NYTimes; running PPC campaign to amplify its voice for relevant searches.

If you have any reaction or links to any reaction, please send it to info (at)