Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Harvard: Journalists Need to do a Better Job Citing Think Tanks

Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy has just issued a new tip sheet to help journalists in citing think tanks.

The tip sheet was released in the wake of the damning New York Times pieces in August which called out a number of think tanks for their pay-for-play culture.

Only a handful of think tanks are truly unbiased, and thus, it is important for anyone quoting think tanks and think tankers to mention what biases may be present (political leanings, funding biases, etc...).

One important point the tip sheet explains is the use of "nonpartisan" that many think tanks have wrongly adopted to describe themselves, saying that there is "little legal criteria for adopting the rubric and a nonpartisan group could, in theory, still have a political leaning."

One example that immediately comes to mind in the ultra-liberal, union-backed think tank Economic Policy Institute (EPI), which says it is "independent and nonpartisan."

The center-left Brookings Institution also calls itself nonpartisan but clearly leans Democratic and heavily supports President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.  [Here is the "nonpartisan policy" of Brookings from the think tank's Office of General Counsel.]

The think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI) also calls itself "nonpartisan" when it is clearly conservative.

The tip sheet has, among other things, a definition of "think tank," examples of conflicts of interest, precautions to take when citing think tank rankings, Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) issues, and other resources for journalists.