Addendum on TCS

by Chris Bertram on November 20, 2003

There have been some fairly furious reactions out there to the various postings by “me”: and others concerning “TCS”: yesterday, most of which don’t merit a reply. I would, though, like to invite those who have suggested that I’m reluctant to read or to link to sites which disagree with my own political beliefs to peruse my postings on CT (or earlier, on “Junius”: ). They’ll see that their suggestion is misplaced. But I do see that my rather brief explanation of my unwillingness to write for TCS — “too right-wing for me” — was misleading. After all, if the Daily Telegraph offers me a column, I’ll happily accept. TCS, though, isn’t just a broadly conservative media outlet but a site that relentlessly pushes a particularly narrow agenda — “where free markets meet technology” — in a style reminiscent of “infotainment” or those articles you sometimes start reading that look like the proper thing but have “paid advertisment” discreetly tucked-away somewhere. And I felt that I didn’t want either to lend respectability to such an outfit or, conversely, to have my own undermined by association with it. (I’m still puzzled by the Curmudgeonly Clerk, by the way, “who opines”: that my deciding not write for TCS reflects an “unhealthy politicization of personal decisionmaking”. Is there something wrong with allowing one’s values to inform one’s personal decisions?)



Keith M Ellis 11.20.03 at 8:41 am

“Is there something wrong with allowing one’s values to inform one’s personal decisions?”

Absolutely not. Indeed, you can choose to write or not write for any publication for any damn reason you like. You don’t have to justify yourself on that account to anyone.

(Note: you certainly loaded the question, though, didn’t you?)

I’m puzzled by the defense of TCS. Imagine if TCS was run by a left-wing lobbying group that organized faux-grass-roots campaigns. The outrage would be enormous, and the right-wing commentariat would be using this as an example of how tainted and phony liberal commentators really are. I do not doubt this.

Of course, that doesn’t prove that such outrage, either in reality or my hypothetical, is appropriate.

But I think it is. TCS was pretending to be something it’s not. All publications have editorial bias. Some publications are the outlets of partisan think-tanks. Few publications are the outlet of a for-profit, partisan, very cynical and manipulative lobbying company…and TCS disguised this fact.

There is a defense of TCS coming from the usual suspects. But I am quite sure that they will lose some of their authorial contributers, and some readership, because of this.


ivan janssens 11.20.03 at 10:38 am

First, i think it’s great that a publication that
is “too right-wing” and “relentlessly” pushing
“a particularly narrow agenda” is asking someone
like Chris Bertram to write for them. It’s like
The Nation asking Glenn Reynolds or Andrew Sullivan
writing for them. But of course they won’t.
Second, if people like Daniel Drezner, Arnold Kling,
Megan McCardle, Michael J. Totten (and i forget others),
all very respected, declare unisono that they can
write what they want, without much pressure, and then
only from editor Nick Schultz, and not from Glasmann, i honostly
don’t see what’s wrong with the respectability of TCS.
Third, it all smell’s too much of Chomsky, you know.
What Confessore has done for TCS, Chomsky does all the
time, like with the New York Times: they are privately run,
so they are biased and untruthfull. And i have much
“circumstantial evidence to support (my) claims”!
Fourth, we should better listen to Karl Popper, don’t look
at who is arguing but to the arguments itself, so we
can let “the arguments die in our place”. So please next time
write about the arguments and not about the sponsors: we all
have sponsors.


Brett Bellmore 11.20.03 at 10:56 am

What bothers you more, that they push an agenda, (Like the NYT doesn’t…) or the realization that your views might be compatable with that agenda?


Keith M Ellis 11.20.03 at 11:06 am

First, i think it’s great that a publication that is “too right-wing” and “relentlessly” pushing “a particularly narrow agenda” is asking someone like Chris Bertram to write for them. It’s like The Nation asking Glenn Reynolds or Andrew Sullivan writing for them.

No, it’s not. And that’s the problem. Doesn’t it occur to you that perhaps TCS isn’t selecting writers on the basis of the integrity of their writing, or out of a desire to merely present all sides of the issue? That, in fact, TCS is owned by a company whose services are to provide to paying customers influence on politicians via subterfuge? That, although they may have a right-wing leaning, they cherry-pick contributers such that the line their customers favor is furthered? For example, in his article Confessore describes some interesting inconsistencies in TCS’s view on telecommunication policy.

This isn’t about right- versus left-wing bias. It’s not about a publication having a bias, or even that it disguises that it does. We all know and accept that sort of thing. It’s exactly that you and people like you take this publication to be a well-intentioned, though biased (like every publication is) participant in civil discourse when that’s not what it is. It’s a trojan horse. It would be just as outrageous had it a leftist bias, rather than a rightist bias.


Barry 11.20.03 at 11:39 am

“people like Daniel Drezner, Arnold Kling,
Megan McCardle, Michael J. Totten (and i forget others), all very respected”

Megan McCardle? Arnold Kling?


(I don’t know Totten, Drezner is 50-50).

The reason people are pissed at outing TCS is that yet another allegedly intellectual organization on the right is revealed to be nothing more than a propaganda tool.


Chocolatier 11.20.03 at 11:46 am

There’s a thread about this at Daniel Drezner’s blog. This is what I wrote there:

I think Dan and other contributing bloggers are TCS’s fig-leaf, giving them the credibility they need. I have read stuff about energy tech and policy on TCS that was mind-bogglingly unscientific and biased towards … well, business and industry interests. That’s what you guys are making palatable. Mixing it with grass makes astroturf less visible.


Tom T. 11.20.03 at 1:06 pm

“It’s exactly that you and people like you take this publication to be a well-intentioned, though biased (like every publication is) participant in civil discourse when that’s not what it is.”

Keith, I still don’t understand the harm that you believe flows from this situation. Assuming that you are correct that there was some concealment at TCS, why is this materially harmful to anyone? I have to imagine that no readers give money to TCS on the supposition that it is a pure media outlet, nor do any readers make public policy decisions on the basis that, “TCS recommends this position, and they’re a disinterested media source.” People assume that Mother Jones or the Weekly Standard select their content according to how it advances their policy-advocacy positions, and people assume that those choices suit the preferences of the magazine’s readers, advertisers, and owners; why would people believe any differently about TCS?


Keith M Ellis 11.20.03 at 2:19 pm

Tom, for all we know, DCI is completely open to the highest bidder. Would you feel comfortable if TCS were soliting writers and articles as to conform to some policy that bin Laden wanted to push? Without disclosure? Glassman used to be quite the lefty. TCS has a nice conservative readership sitting there waiting to read hand-picked articles, friendly to leftist interests, that will fly right under their radar. How do you know this isn’t happening?

People are defending TCS and DCI as if this was a partisan left versus right matter. It’s not. DCI is a privately owned lobbying firm that is in the business of selling influence and making money from doing so. Were do you think TCS gets its money from? They don’t advertise.

People in this thread, Kieran’s satire thread, and elsewhere keep saying that the truth (or falsity) of the words should be the only things that count. So, is that how you feel about subterranean faux-grass-roots letter writing campaigns to local newspapers of pre-written, identical letters, all appearing to be legitimately the honest expression of a local individual? That doesn’t bother you? If the letter is “true” does it bother you? If it’s “true”, and it’s leftist, does it bother you?

This isn’t about editorial bias. That’s a natural and unavoidable aspect of civil discourse. It’s about dishonesty that perverts civil discourse because it violates the presumed good-will that underlies it. Even if we imagine that the individual writers are all writing in good will, we now know that the editorial decisions are not made in good-will. They’re sold to the highest bidder. I don’t doubt that magazine and newspaper publishers in the past have been similarly influenced. But not, to my knowledge, as part of their essential business model. And no one admits to it, they keep it a secret. TCS kept it a secret. Shouldn’t that indicate something? We find this sort of thing unacceptable, and for good reason.


Eve Garrard 11.20.03 at 4:37 pm

Chris, is your concern primarily about causal efficacy – ie the contribution you might have made to whatever harm TCS does in the world, or is it primarily about complicity – ie about being morally contaminated by working for forces which you disapprove of? These are different kinds of worries generating very different kinds of arguments.


Keith M Ellis 11.20.03 at 4:50 pm

Eve, I’m not clear on your distinction between causal efficacy and complicity. Could you say more?


Chris Bertram 11.20.03 at 6:02 pm


I suppose I’d say that my immediate revulsion at the thought of writing there has to do with feelings of contamination. So there’s a virtue-related concern: I’d have felt ashamed… That’s dissociable from the harm they do, since I’d also feel compromised if I hung out with a bunch of racists who (for whatever contingent reason) were actually harmless. [Note to the stupid: that’s an illustration to isolate one concern from the other not a claim about TCS whose contributors afaik are all non- or anti-racist].

I’m not sure if TCS does much actual harm since the close resemblance of many of their columns to the Andrew Northrup parody of them ought to deprive them of effect. But probably they enable people who already believe (and _desperately_ want to believe) certain propositions to reinforce their beliefs – and that’s a bad thing.


MrTek 11.20.03 at 7:24 pm

Lets try a little thought experiment here….

Suppose people started making rude comments and dumping coke on the ground at public sporting events. Many of them are suddenly quoted about how much they hated Coke.

Now, to the average person setting in front of their TVs, it looks like probably something has changed with Coke, and they are very unlikely to by any more Coke.

Now, IN REALITY, PepsiCo has hired about 100 actors, and 3 camera crews, and that same group goes to several major sporting events and does their performance piece, and suddenly the free market has completely ceased to exist.

Only we are not talking about something as marginal as a market, or unimportant as economics, but the very discourse about the direction of our public policy. Worse still, politicians, (those guys who WRITE OUR LAWS) are by their nature very sensitive to public opinion, so the fake opinion on TV drives so VERY bad laws to be written contrary to the public good, or ANY opinion except the small group that paid for the campaign in the first place.

Editorial bias is a fact of life. Each person must read each publication, determine that bias, and decide what weight to give it. What TCS does is to manufacture what seems to be numerous individuals with NO APPARENT overriding bias, and the DIRECT lie that they have no connection to each other. A DELIBERATE, DESIGNED PLAN TO HIDE THE BIAS in the advertisement. (I think that most would agree, being paid to endorse an idea you did not agree with strongly would constitute an advertisement in any media.)

When you see an advertisement you know that it is lying to you, and you know to discount it. When you read a letter to the editor, or see a “grassroots” organization complaining about an issue, even though it is a PAID advertisement, it is not presented as such, so you are not LOOKING for the lies being told.

(Anyone that wants to argue that advertising, BY It’s NATURE is not a lie, go ahead, but that would be a hard battle to win)

Thoughts from the mind of Mr TeK.


The Curmudgeonly Clerk 11.20.03 at 7:39 pm

Mr. Bertram:

I have appended an update to my original post that links to your response here. I think that our exchange is largely the result of a misunderstanding re: “too right-wing for me.” Given your clarification, it doesn’t seem that your post would be subject to my particular criticism at any rate. However, my somewhat inchoate argument isn’t really about the influence of one’s politics on decisionmaking, but rather the extent of that influence and just how much is too much.


Eve Garrard 11.20.03 at 7:45 pm

Keith: I had in mind the difference between actions which actually contribute to bringing about an (in this case unwanted) effect, and actions which may or may not contribute causally, but which involve real or apparent collaboration with those who do aim at the production of those effects. (That’s very sketchy; no doubt a lot more refinement of the distinction is needed.)

Chris: I imagine that any journal or website with a distinct political position enables some people to maintain beliefs which they desperately wish to hold on to. Can that be a reason for refraining from writing for them? If so, it’s going to rule out a great deal of paper and electronic journalism. And surely it’s better for any such outlet to get dissenters to write for them, than for it not to do so?

I’m wondering what it really takes to generate complicity, of the kind that makes a person rightly feel contaminated. Would sharing a political activity (eg a protest) with those who have utterly objectionable beliefs be sufficient? If so, then again that’s going to rule out a great deal of activity!


Chris Bertram 11.20.03 at 8:14 pm


My nose is hardly infallible. And many of the individuals who have written for TCS are – despite views with which I disagree – people with whom I have no problem associating. But something felt (or smelt) wrong about TCS and I think Confessore’s exposure of it as an astroturfing operation vindicates my olfactory reflexes.


J Edgar 11.20.03 at 9:16 pm

I’ve read enough Karl Popper to know that, irrefutably, TCS prints a LOT of junk.

I know that TCS and it’s supporters put a lot of energy in the logic and terminology of their arguments (I guess that is part of the “Tech” of TCS), but when it comes down to it, they are happy with it’s flaws, they pat each other on the back for reaching mutual insights, and they do have a lot of energy to argue with anyone who calls junk, junk.

(Do write me when Nepal, a tiny, poor, land-locked country between China and India, succeeds as a free-trade zone)


Eve Garrard 11.20.03 at 11:03 pm

Chris: I don’t have a view about TCS, nor would I expect anyone to be infallible about these matters. But given that people are worried about contamination, and are also very ready to charge others with it (as the TCS debate shows), it would be interesting to know what (if any) criteria there are for its correct attribution. You suggested you’d feel contaminated if you found yourself hanging out with racists. So would I. But then there’s this problem about large-scale political protests. Many of them attract racists, for one reason or another. Are the participants thereby contaminated?

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