In plain view

by John Quiggin on January 27, 2006

The New Republic has a piece by Paul Thacker pointing out that Fox News science columnist Steven Milloy is a shill for, among other corporations, Philip Morris and ExxonMobil. It’s behind a paywall but that scarcely matters, because the relevant facts have been on the public record for years. As usual, Tim Lambert has the most detailed coverage, but a search of Crooked Timber will produce plenty more, and most of the info has been in Milloy’s Wikipedia entry for some time. In this context, the claim by Fox News, reported by TNR, that they were unaware of Milloy’s corporate payoffs speaks volumes for their capacity as a news organisation. I guess when you can just make it up, you don’t need to use Google.

What seems to be happening here, as with the Abramoff scandal is that facts that have been in plain view for ages can now be fitted into a media narrative – Republican sleaze in general and pundits for hire in particular. Whereas evidence of these kinds of links has been ignored or brushed aside in the past, they can now be seen as part of a systematic pattern of corruption.

If this narrative keeps running it’s going to make life a lot more difficult for the network of rightwing thinktanks and lobby groups that have proliferated in the US over the past two decades or so. Apart from the fact that most of them have at least one individual shill or fraud already exposed (AEI with Lott, Hudson with Fumento, Cato with Bandow and Milloy, TCS from top to bottom[1]) it’s going to become increasingly obvious that these guys have done little more than some unauthorised moonlighting. The organisations are engaged in the same kind of shilling, but on a larger scale. It’s hard to see how they can retain any credibility, or how any reputable person can continue work for any of them, unless all of the shills are sacked, and the organisations become a lot more open about their funding.

In this context, it’s heartening to note that Milloy has quietly departed from Cato where he was an adjunct scholar until the end of 2005. I don’t suppose this post had anything to do with it, but having called for Cato to sack him, I’m glad they’ve parted company. How long will it take Fox News to do something similar?

fn1. Except for Tim Worstall, who seems unaffected by the general atmosphere there.

{ 33 comments }

1

rollo 01.28.06 at 1:42 am

There is absloutely no credible evidence whatsoever of any kind to link the recent scandal involving a falsified biography being posted on Wikipedia to any corporate interests or shills or shill-minders or shill-paymasters. None whatsoever of any kind.

2

bad Jim 01.28.06 at 3:37 am

Have we already forgotten that accusing someone of being paid for his position is the orginal ad hominem argument? That an opinion has been bought doesn’t make it false, does it?

3

Adrian 01.28.06 at 3:55 am

Makes it unreliable.

4

abb1 01.28.06 at 4:51 am

Pundits and columnists are paid for their opinions.

Paid advocacy is a totally different matter.

5

John Quiggin 01.28.06 at 4:56 am

The idea that ad hominem arguments are invalid is one of those things that carry over, as DD pointed out while back from fourth-form debating society. A more accurate statement is, to adapt DD slightly fibbers factoid are worthless

To spell this out, the idea that a person’s motives don’t matter in assessing their arguments is OK in classical logic, as is the corollary that an argument from authority is invalid. As long as you’re talking about syllogisms this is all very well.

But this kind of thinking is highly misleading once you get outside syllogistic logic. An opinion is valuable because of the expertise (authority) of the person offering it, and its value is therefore greatly reduced if it has been paid for.

Even where an opinion is supported by (claimed) facts, you need to make a judgement about whether the claimed facts are reliable and whether other relevant facts have been omitted. The motives of the person presenting the opinion are highly relevant here. In Milloy’s case you can check the record in detail, but it’s simpler just to follow the money.

6

bad Jim 01.28.06 at 5:07 am

Jeez, I had my tongue so far into my cheek that I was afraid to fart for fear that I’d bite it off!

7

John Quiggin 01.28.06 at 5:24 am

Sorry about that, Bad Jim :-)

I’ve encountered that exact argument so many times I took it as straight. I must get my irony detectors rechecked!

8

bad Jim 01.28.06 at 5:32 am

In practice ad hominem arguments are fairly reliable, which is why we deploy them so frequently. We get used to others’ prejudices, and they to ours, and it’s intellecually economical to discount arguments we’ve already heard, and even more so to ignore arguments from an untrustworthy source. Consider the president of the United States.

In this case cui bono is a particularly ambiguous question, since “What’s good for General Motors is good for the U.S.A, and vice versa” is now generally recognized as a recipe for disaster.

9

abb1 01.28.06 at 5:52 am

I’m not so sure about the cui bono. I think in the case of a pundit advocating policy, there is a significant difference between him being a potential beneficiary of this policy (e.g. tax cuts) and him being directly paid to advocate this policy. I think the first kind of ad hominem is fallacious, the second one is not.

10

bad Jim 01.28.06 at 6:05 am

Likely both. You don’t always have to pay people to advocate good policy.

11

Tim Worstall 01.28.06 at 6:54 am

“TCS from top to bottom”

Cough, cough.

12

John Quiggin 01.28.06 at 7:06 am

OK, OK, from top to bottom except Tim W.

13

otto 01.28.06 at 10:43 am

What is the difference between TCS’s relationship to various corporate lobbies and TNR’s relationship to various elements of the Israeli lobbies?

The point is that issue-based mobilisation by small groups is an essential element of US politics (and media and life). It can’t be removed.

14

Matt Weiner 01.28.06 at 10:55 am

I think Brian W had one of the best knockdowns of the “it’s just an ad hominem!” line with respect to covert lobbying.

15

Matt Weiner 01.28.06 at 10:56 am

(Not that anyone is taking that line here, I just thought it was worth linking again.)

16

Jim Harrison 01.28.06 at 1:56 pm

Paid pundits don’t advertise that they’re getting paid so at least they think it’s a relevant fact.

17

Steve 01.28.06 at 2:32 pm

Its almost list George Stephanopolous being hired by one of the networks as a journalist.
Or Dan Rather being a donor and honored attendee at Democratic Party conventions.

Ho hum.

18

Empiricist 01.28.06 at 2:59 pm

I checked the Cato people pages, and there’s no reference to Bandow or Milloy. John Lott, on the other hand, was exposed as a fraud years ago and is still at AEI.

It appears you owe Cato an apology.

19

Andrew 01.28.06 at 3:06 pm

There seems to be a less drastic remedy than termination though: disclosure by the pundit/columnist of his other financial interests, where the subject of his commentary is related to those interests.

Requiring all pundits/columnists to have no financial interests in the subject of their commentary seems unduly restrictive, as this will dramatically reduce the exposure of many experts to the public, simply on the basis that the experts have worked for private interests, and not based upon good evidence that the experts routinely offer unreasonably biased analysis.

Moreover, by requiring disclosure, the expert may become more sensitive to his own biases, and more interested in avoiding the appearance of shilling for a private interest. Indeed, with disclosure the private interest has an incentive for the expert to avoid the appearance of mere shilling as well.

20

Matt Weiner 01.28.06 at 3:20 pm

empiricist–
As John noted, Milloy has left Cato. Bandow also left Cato after it was revealed that Jack Abramoff had paid him to write columns.

21

rollo 01.28.06 at 5:26 pm

Milloy not left Cato he got purged on the way out.

22

Rich Puchalsky 01.28.06 at 6:55 pm

I originally encountered Milloy long, long ago, when he was getting sympathetic people within EPA to hire him for “analysis” that turned out to be, surprise surprise, favorable to industry. He’s built an entire career on this kind of thing. Having this part of it end now doesn’t seem like much of a problem for him. He will end up directly on salary at some corporation, that’s all.

How effective has his life-long work been? Campaigns to delay regulation save corporations billions, though they don’t stop it permanently. He’s probably helped to cost hundreds or thousands of people their lives, though.

23

Michael Fumento 01.28.06 at 7:30 pm

“Apart from the fact that most of them have at least one individual shill or fraud already exposed (AEI with Lott, Hudson with Fumento . . . “

Please explain in your own words how I was either a shill or fraud, whereupon I will respond and shred them. It’s so easy to make an accusation, so much more difficult to back it up.

24

John Quiggin 01.29.06 at 12:39 am

Why use my own words? Wikipedia sums it up pretty accurately:

“On January 13, 2006, Eamon Javers revealed in BusinessWeek Online that Fumento had written opinion columns promoting the biotechnology firm Monsanto without disclosing a $60,000 grant his employer, the Hudson Institute had received from the company in 1999. Scripps Howard News Service, Fumento’s distributor since 2003, dropped his column in consequence.”

Feel free to divide the assessment of shilling between yourself and Hudson.

25

John Quiggin 01.29.06 at 12:46 am

And then, of course, there’s Tracy Spenser.

26

Barbar 01.29.06 at 1:06 am

Tracy Spenser — that’s awesome. Ha.

27

Pablo Stafforini 01.29.06 at 2:38 am

Read the whole thing. The Fumento saga actually gets worse.

28

Barbar 01.29.06 at 3:15 am

Sheesh. What an embarassment.

Check out this rather pathetic comment left by Fumento on another blog.

Not that any of this should shade our opinions of his writing, of course. That would be the ad hominem fallacy. Just because someone repeatedly reveals himself to be a dumbass bully doesn’t mean he isn’t also a dazzling writer with brilliant ideas. We wouldn’t want to pre-judge.

29

Matt 01.29.06 at 10:55 pm

Man, that Fumento is one slow-motion shredder. When are we going to see some action?

30

Tracy Spenser 01.30.06 at 1:11 am

You’re just another pissant “Dear Diary” hack without the good sense to write your thoughts down and throw them into the trash can. Now I am going to do the worst possible thing you can do to somebody who measures his life by “hits.” I’m not going to write to you again, and I’m going to watch your traffic – such as it is – plummet. It must be sad to have jealousy as one’s prime motivator in life, but that is your problem and note mine. Bye-bye.

*Fumento’s actual words.

31

John Quiggin 01.30.06 at 2:51 am

I think he has printed the comments out and shredded them at home.

32

Tim Lambert 01.30.06 at 11:34 am

Good catch on that comment, Barbar. Notice that he accidently admits to using a sock puppet:

So again and for the last time I will deny ON THIS SITE but not on Lambert’s that I have never posted under any name but my own, his ability to slap together a name with my IP address on a graphic notwithstanding.

Those double negatives can be tricky.

33

Barbar 01.30.06 at 1:54 pm

Oh I didn’t even get that far — the way he just proves his innocence beyond a shadow of doubt is just breathtaking:

Tim Lambert, little child of the Outback, is desperate for me to post a comment on his website denying that I set up a sock puppet. For one, he’d sell his mother’s soul to increase his declining blog rankings by one iota. For another, he’d succeed in making me break my vow not to post on his silly little site. So he continues to say I’ve made no denial since I’ve made none on Deltoid — a rather egocentric view of the world to say the least. What’s most interesting is the paucity of comments he’s gotten on his “still no denial” charge and even the lack of interest shown by those who did comment. In other words, if I did set up a sock puppet it appears nobody but Lambert and his human sockpuppet John (”Duh, whaddya want me to say, Tim?”) Fleck seems to care. Alternatively, they may not believe Lambert. Might be a reason for that, since he’s played these games before and set up his own sock puppets.

I mean, that just reeks honesty.

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