TechCentralStation exposed

by Chris Bertram on November 19, 2003

A few weeks back I posted on cruelty to animals and was surprised to receive an inquiry about whether I’d be willing to write on the subject for TechCentralStation . I declined (too right-wing for me). Reading Nicholas Confessore’s article on the site and its backer , I’m doubly glad I did. The bloggers who write for the site are mainly conservatives and libertarians, but not exclusively so (liberals such as Matthew Yglesias have featured there). I wonder if any of them will regret their choice in the light of Confessore’s exposure of TCS as being little more than a corporate lobbying operation? (via Brad DeLong ).

UPDATE: I should, of course, link to Andrew Northrup on this one.



nofundy 11.19.03 at 6:24 pm

Isn’t that the place where InstaPundit got his start into the media world? If so, isn’t he an extension of the AstroTurfing with his “weblog?”


James 11.19.03 at 6:35 pm

Confessore has to do a little better than this, surely?
First of all, and I don’t have to say it here really, lobbying is part of the political process in the US from all directions, and all sides have their media fronts, some of which you will agree in part with, Chris, and some Confessore will agree with, and others whom you and he will loathe. Confessore tries to argue that TCS is out of the ordinary in this respect.
But, secondly, he has to concede, and does, that the majority of contributors, and Glassman, are scarcely perjuring themselves in their TCS pieces. What they write reflects their own views. I am prompted to comment that one can be on the right and in favour of Microsoft and against Kyoto without any help from commercial backers. Of course, it suits commercial interests that such views be made widely known. So Confessore has to fall short of insinuating that TCS’s contributors are lying for money.
I went through the article looking for specific examples of articles that were untypical of the writer’s commonly expressed opinions, and came across just one – Glassman’s views on telecommunications. It’s not terribly damning, is it? One might as well say that Paul Krugman’s about-face on the economic consequences of war in the Gulf between Gulf I (boom) and Gulf II (bust) are down to the same kind of influences; both claims are most likely absurd. In Glassman’s position, I’d personally have taken the Moore/Pilger/Chomsky route: fame, and far more money.


Matt Weiner 11.19.03 at 7:03 pm

“the Moore/Pilger/Chomsky route: fame, and far more money.”
To what are you referring? I’m not sure I know Moore and Pilger, and I’ve heard of Chomsky mostly because of his linguistics work (although his political stuff is also quite well known).


sensible blogger 11.19.03 at 7:46 pm

Chris, as long as the TCS does not censor you, why should it matter where you publish something. Surely, I thought, the important thing is what you publish?!?

This reminds me of a (anarchist-socialist) friend in the mid-1990s who criticized me for surfing the Web — this evil creation of the Pentagon…


Paul 11.19.03 at 7:46 pm

Confessore has to do a little better than this, surely?

Better than what? You don’t seem to be disputing what Confessore says, you just don’t like his tone and you don’t think there’s anything wrong with TCS lobbying. Fine. There isn’t anything especially wrong with lobbying–though failing to disclose it is sleazy; and if Glassman wants to “launder ideas,” that’s fine, too. It’s his credibility. I’d always assumed TCS was a front group anyway.


Ophelia Benson 11.19.03 at 7:59 pm

“Most surprisingly of all, Tech Central Station is one of the few Internet magazines to grow into middle age.”

Hm. How old is ‘into middle age’ for an Internet magazine? Will a year and a couple of months do?


Mac Thomason 11.19.03 at 8:07 pm

You don’t have to censor if you only hire writers who will agree with your editorial slant. But there’s something different with this compared with the normally ideologically slanted journal; this one pretends to be independent but at the same time allows its line to be dictated by its sponsors.


Ophelia Benson 11.19.03 at 8:18 pm

On a more serious note…TCS does occasionally have an article that is relevant to B&W, but I find myself reluctant to link to them – for the same reason Chris didn’t want to write for them. And then I second-guess myself for that, thinking I should judge each article solely on its merits, and ignore where it comes from. Yes but then I think – and so on.

Only Monday a fan wrote to urge me to add the TCS columns of Keith Burgess-Jackson to B&W – saying what a great site B&W is, except for the lack of KB-J. Uh oh, I thought, here we go again, more conscience-wrestling. But fortunately, I didn’t like KB-J a bit, so there was no need for wrestling. So I can read the Confessore piece with a steady pulse.

I’ve actually talked about this some at B&W, because it’s part of the subject matter. That is, our whole reason for being is to try to separate epistemology from politics, or is from ought. To say that if a right-wing magazine has a good article, then its politics should be beside the point. So I feel duty-bound to admit and discuss it when my mental processes don’t quite work that way.

So in fact the Confessore article makes me feel slightly vindicated for the TCS-avoidance.


chun the unavoidable 11.19.03 at 8:42 pm

Matt Weiner,

I hope that’s some sort of alien Steven Wright-style sarcasm, ’cause otherwise you’ve got to get out from under (or get off) the rock.

And what’s this “fame and money” nonsense about Chomsky and Pilger?


Dave 11.19.03 at 9:20 pm

Chun, don’t you know that guys like Moore/Pilger/Chomsky really control all our minds and have Swiss bank accounts full of gold and undersea islands while only the fearless at TCS and people like james know the real truth.
(That was some alien-what-you-said-sarcasm.)


Brett Bellmore 11.19.03 at 10:10 pm

“James Glassman and TCS have given birth to something quite new in Washington: journo-lobbying.”

Well, quite new, if you don’t count the media at the time the 1st amendment was adopted. LOL


Arnold Kling 11.19.03 at 11:04 pm

I confess that I have written for TCS. I have never had my thoughts changed by the editor, who by the way, is not Jim Glassman (he is the founder).

I have never taken into consideration the interests of any sponsor. I do not even know who the sponsors are.

The editor is Nick Schulz. Nick has a soft spot for philosophical-type writings. Who else would publish an article on the sect-like behavior of Austrian economists, leading with a quote from Ernst Troelsch?

I should point out that Archer-Daniels-Midland, a corporation that subsists on government pork, sponsors many television programs that I would speculate are popular among readers here. Would you refuse to appear on the Jim Lehrer News Hour because it is a “front” for ADM?

Here’s a suggestion that I know will confirm to you that the vast right-wing conspiracy is out to get you: Try reading articles with points of view that differ from your own, and try dealing with them in terms of substance.


JP 11.19.03 at 11:04 pm

1. Moore refers to Michael Moore, right? It’s not like that’s the most obvious thing in the world though. Moore’s a pretty common name.

2. There’s a difference between having an ideological slant, and having your ideology dictated by what’s best for a certain company that pays you to write it up. It might be okay if this garbage was published in the “Newsletter for Big American Companies,” but not in a publication that purports to be actual journalism.

3. I wouldn’t have thought any less of Chris if he’d been published there either. Yglesias is in the clear too. Case by case.


JP 11.19.03 at 11:11 pm

Would you refuse to appear on the Jim Lehrer News Hour because it is a “front” for ADM?

No, because:

1. It’s clearly disclosed.

2. They rarely cover issues pertaining to ADM.

3. They have to disclose all their finances.

4. They don’t share office space with ADM.

Nice try, though.


chun the unavoidable 11.19.03 at 11:29 pm

Actually, the Newshour ignored the hell out of the ADM price-fixing scandal in 1995, when it was all over the network news.


Richard Vagge 11.19.03 at 11:35 pm

1. It’s clearly disclosed.

I don’t think the show really ever does disclose that ADM “subsists on government pork”. Maybe I missed that episode

2. They rarely cover issues pertaining to ADM.

Why don’t they cover issues pertaining to ADM? ADM sponsors a show that covers the news and it’s rarely mentioned? Hmmmm.

3. They have to disclose all their finances.

So did Enron. That’s just a snarky point but is it really to be believed that a company that discloses all its dealing makes it a more honest sponsor of ideas. Maybe or maybe not.

4. They don’t share office space with ADM.

Just imagine the morning conversations. “Have you advanced the right wing agenda today. Yes, have you”. Come on, is that a big deal. If they were located across the street, would it be ok?

This is not even a tempest in a teapot.


markus 11.19.03 at 11:45 pm

mr vagge, it may be beyond you, but not reporting on one’s own associates _is_ one possible way of avoiding a conflict of interest, the other is revealing who your associates/sponsors are. News Hour does both, TCS did neither.
disclosing your finances is another indicator of honesty, but it doesn’t prove honesty. The question was about arguments for basing one’s decision on, remember?
And you _are_ aware of the differences between sponsorship and ownership, aren’t you?


Jack 11.20.03 at 12:13 am

The fact that it is run by a general purpose lobby group is more of a problem than ADM in some ways because it is harder to understand what axes it may have to grind.

It is possible for the editor to exercise bias by choosing who writes about what without changing what they write, especially if they can easily tell what they are going to get. I hypothesise that a blog is both a good way of telling what someone thinks and a good training in consistency.

In any case if it is a ploy it will be more successful if it has a body of good articles to establish the credibility of the ones that might be there for lobbying purposes. From the readers point of view the issue is that you can never know when the piece is appearing for lobbying reasons rather than some reasons more in line with your own interests and expectations.

I think Arnold Kling’s point would carry more weight if he were tackling the issue the way he suggests himself and there weren’t so many links to his sites and, say, Jane Galt/Megan McCardle on blogs not far from here.

On the other hand he may not have made as much as he could out of the ADM example. So much of the media is driven by advertising that it is hard to be sure of any of it. Even films suffer from product placement so no longer can we see what things the person who imagined a certain character thinks they would actually use but instead what somebody will pay to show them using. Entire sections of newspapers exist entirely to sell advertising. Whether this is any better than TCS I’m not sure but perhaps I’ll be careful reading what it has to say about Linux for example. Maybe I should start buying my own news.


Vinteuil 11.20.03 at 12:46 am

What a lot of nothing. TCS has ads for its sponsors splashed all over every page on the site. The “About TCS” page offers those sponsors grateful acknowledgement. The idea that anybody’s covering up anything of interest here is absurd. If only one could count on academic researchers to be as blatant about who’s buttering their bread, and on which side.


Nasi Lemak 11.20.03 at 1:07 am

The Linux point is apt – I remember reading a piece on TCS a couple of months ago about Open Source that was just *dumb* – the sort of thing you might have got from, say, a Microsoft marketroid rather than a serious technolibertarian of whatever views. I thought it was odd at the time – I think I wrote something about it – but it all seems a lot clearer now.


Matt Weiner 11.20.03 at 1:32 am

Oh, Michael Moore. I will grant you that he has got to be reasonably well-known and well-off, though I’m not sure what his “method” is–some of his stuff is intentionally funny, unlike Dow 36,000, but I don’t know of Glassman could pull that off.
On the other hand, we don’t know about “far more money,” do we? Does Glassman disclose his tax returns?
As for Chomsky, really, as someone who does philosophy I think of him as the most influential linguist of the post-WWII period. There’s a talk in my department this week on “Chomsky on learning a language.” I doubt his political views would be as well known if he weren’t so prominent in linguistics.
Pilger is someone I’ve only heard of because he gets attacked in blogs.


Jason McCullough 11.20.03 at 5:56 am

The conservative/libertarian “why, I don’t see the problem here!” stuff is amazing. What, you wouldn’t see anything noteworthy about it if Tapped was published by Bob Shrum, but pretended (until yesterday) that it wasn’t?


Tom Grey 11.20.03 at 3:17 pm

Biases, and who pays, can be extremely important, but are much less so when there are alternatives. Exactly why a free press is important, and blogging helps, like Riverbend of Baghdad’s Burning.

The biggest world view bias in the West today is in gov’t paid for schools, with virtually all teachers and professors implicitly aware of the gov’t / socialistic / non-market oriented processes of the education industry; and most explicitly supporting anti-market thinking. ALL the presumed worst characteristics of biased journalists exist, today, in most schools.

The likely alternative, eg with vouchers, allows alternate ideologies more equal time. Still, professional unbiased truth seekers will likely be underbid by “true believers” of one sort or another, willing to accept less money in order to teach their biased version of the truth.


Keith M Ellis 11.20.03 at 4:08 pm

Tom, I think our whole law enforcement and judicial system is even more socialist than the educational system. I can’t think of a single city in the US that has a privately run police force. I fear we lost the battle against socialism a long time ago.


Richard Vagge 11.20.03 at 5:13 pm


Many things are beyond me but this is not one of them. I think there is a simple illustration of this. We have the blogger Atrios. I don’t agree with much of Atrios writes but he can be interesting to read some time. If I were to find out at some future date that Atrios was a Democratic Party official, I would not say oh, why have wasted all my time reading his obviously “sponsored” blog. This seems to be the standard some of the Crooked Timber people use. A desire for purity of this sort is kind of silly to my mind. As David Hickey wrote, “Authenticity is something you back in to when trying to look at something that’s really interesting.” What we are trying to look at is interesting ideas. We have the facility to address the rightness of ideas that does not involve knowing who paid for them.

There it is Markus, right in front of both of us.


Armed Liberal 11.21.03 at 5:50 am

There’s an interesting link between this post and Ted Barlow’s post suggesting that liberal hawks such as me indirectly trim our sails so that we’re picked up by the bigger conservative blogs. It’s not a pleasant one, and it suggests that somehow the meta-argument about “why” trumps the messy arguments on the ground.

I blog to help me figure out my politics so i can try and live them in my life. I get to have correspondance with a lot of different people, of different opinions, and I’ve learned quite a lot.

One of the things I’ve learned is to distinguish between an honest argument – which means to advance understanding, and comes about when the parties treat each other with a measure of respect – and a dishonest one, which means to diminish one’s opponent, by whatever means are at hand.

This blog, for example, is linked to from an official Democratic Party site; does that induce you to trim your arguments on their behalf? While I won’t weigh into the ‘academic politics’ morass, it certainly seems to me that most of the political philosophy/theory folks that I’ve come to know in the last 20 years that I’ve been following the discipline are leftish, and that had I chosen to take my acceptance and go on to a Ph.D, my own liberal politics would have been an asset to my career.

So does the fact that many of you are academics, and so materially rewarded by a liberal peer group devalue your arguments?
Chris, you and Ted were among the first theory bloggers that I encountered as I entered blogging, and I’ve had nothing but admiration for both of you – up until this. It’s beneath you both, and it’s a bad form of argument that is sadly, contagious.



Tongue Boy 11.21.03 at 1:49 pm

I wonder if any of them will regret their choice in the light of Confessore’s exposure of TCS as being little more than a corporate lobbying operation?

So far, the answer appears to be “no”. A lot of words expended on a non-issue.


Peter Seebach 01.07.04 at 11:16 pm

I’ve had to write about these people some. They’re spammers. They refuse to respond to queries about their list management, and they haven’t yet explained how they added my name to their list. They appear to be, in every measurable way, spamming scum.

There is no feedback, no response; they don’t care. It’s about pushing their message out to anyone they can, with or without any kind of permission.

That’s spammers for you.

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