Money talks

| October 3, 2011 | 2 Replies

During a recent conversation with a friend, I found myself wondering whether I had sufficient evidence for my claim. My claim was that most corporate newspapers and electronic media are reluctant publish stories that make big corporations look bad, the motivation being that big corporations by expensive ads. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. My friend reminded me that her husband works for a newspaper and he’s never seen the “smoking gun memo” that substantiates the that corporations are telling the news media what stories to avoid covering. She says that the problem is that the media is understaffed and lazy, not that they are biased.

I responded that I don’t think that there actually NEEDS to be a memo. As long as the media picks on little targets and celebrity news, there isn’t much blow-back. But if they were to take on a big target in a big way, the reporters and editors already KNOW that the switchboard would light up and email will come pouring in from big shots affiliated with corporations, making them wish they they had just stuck with the tried and true (e.g., celebrity news, sports, shootings and accidents). There is a substitute for a smoking gun memo, and it’s the overall lack of reporting critical of corporations that is not simply reporting on an ongoing legal dispute or where one corporation criticizes another. Many people think that circumstantial cases are necessarily weak, but this is not true. Criminals are sent to prison based on circumstantial evidence.

I’ll be on the lookout for a good study that demonstrates the problem, and I’m certainly open to evidence to the contrary. In the meantime, I’ve just noticed two recent stories that exemplify the political power of money.

Example 1: The New Yorker has just published a detailed article explaining how concentrated money is buying elections in North Carolina.

Example 2: Contrary to strong studies to the contrary, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization is claiming that the common chemical bisphenol A (BPA) presents no risk of cancer. Here’s an excerpt from a recent Mother Jones article, “Is Susan G. Komen Denying the BPA-Breast Cancer Link?”:

In April 2010 Komen posted an online statement saying that BPA had been “deemed safe.” And a more recent statement on Komen’s website about BPA, from February 2011, begins, “Links between plastics and cancer are often reported by the media and in email hoaxes.” Komen acknowledges in its older statement that the Food and Drug Administration is doing more studies on BPA, but also says that there is currently “no evidence to suggest a link between BPA and risk of breast cancer.”

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Category: cognitive biases, Corruption, Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich and his wife, Anne Jay, live in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising their two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. Tony says:

    And don’t forget:

    1. A newspaper is a corporation, it has an owner/boss, who is best buddy with other owners/bosses. This creates a corporation friendly bias, if not climate.

    2. A newspaper (like any other organization as well) tends to hire like-mined people.

    3. Suggest a risky story and get only the “no go” from your boss once is already enough incentive not suggest similar avenues of investigation in the future. And a boss always worries about blow-back. So we end up with low-risk gossip stories.

    4. More important than the threat to no longer get expensive ads is the threat of litigation as far as blow-back goes – but you should know more there than I do, I guess.

    5. There is a wide ranging corruption at least in the printed press. Make a favorable review of a product or a nice product placement, get an “incentive”.

    6. Invegistative journalism takes time and costs money – in an age, when most newspapers mainly reprint stories from the news agencies. And how much money does a invegistative piece make, that takes week to do the journalism for? Not more than a quickly written gossip/lifestyle/pundit piece…

    No, there doesn’t need to be a memo. But there are strong biases and incentives.

  2. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    A few years ago, while waiting at the Doctors office, I picked out an old issue of one of the car review magazines, mainly because it had a comparison of the Mitsubishi Eclipse, Plymouth Laser and Eagle Talon. At the time I owned a Laser, and in reading the article, the test results were as expected, pretty much the same. This made sense as the three different cars were, barring some minor cosmetic differences, the same. All three were built on the same assembly line in Illinois, from parts parts made in the US, Canada, Mexico and Japan.

    The numbers all said the same thing, but the narrative reports reports varied greatly, judging the Eclipse as an overall better car, and ranking the Laser at the bottom. Flipping through the issue, I noticed that there were several ads by Mitsubishi some two page spreads and one foldout, which are usually more expensive, while the Eagle and Plymouth ads were of the less expensive types.
    Just a coincidence, I’m sure. (wink wink nudge nudge)

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