Bill Berkowitz, writing at Media Transparency, has a piece titled Paying to play, expanding on why the Abramoff investigation should trigger a look into the “conservative movement” think tanks that Abramoff was working with.
Revelations that Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff bought op-ed pieces from fellows at right wing think tanks should unleash an investigation into two decades of so-called research paid for by conservative philanthropies
Part of the Abramoff scandal is the funding and use of these “charity” organizations to put out propaganda for Abramoff’s clients and to help consolidate Republicans in power.
On Friday, December 16, another branch from the “pay to play” tree of journalism came crashing to earth.
Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the fiercely libertarian Cato Institute, resigned after BusinessWeek Online revealed that he had been paid ample chunks of change by indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff to produce columns in support of issues of interest to Abramoff and his clients. Many of these columns were related to Indian gambling, and “extol[ing] the virtues of the free-market system” particularly in the Northern Mariana Islands, the New York Times reported.
Yesterday, in Abramoff Indictment Hides Connection to RWNM, I wrote about Abramoff’s use of his own phony “foundation” to dispense money, and how the Bush Justice Department is working to hide this connection because any investigation would reveal the underpinnings of Republican power. I wrote,
Abramoff’s connection to and abuse of a “clearly phony” non-profit organization is a lead the Bush Administration’s Justice Department doesn’t want to follow, because it is this network of organizations that pays – and pays well – for the army of right-wingers who write op-eds, articles and books supporting the Republican agenda, who make appearances on so many radio and TV shows and who offer “informed opinions” for news articles and programs. These are the PR and marketing organizations that send out the repeated pro-conservative messaging and strategic narratives that move American ever more rightward. An honest investigation of their funding and operation would threaten the underpinnings of the conservative movement’s “Right Wing Noise Machine.” So it ain’t gonna happen as long as Bush is in charge of where the Abramoff investigation leads.
Berkowitz’s article explains,
Since the 1980s, the political landscape has become thick with conservative and libertarian think tanks. For a time, it seemed that every other week or so, yet another press release announced the establishment of a new think tank or public policy institute. During this period, more than 100 such organizations were founded, staffed and funded. Some appeared to fly-by-night operations run by one person or by a skeleton staff whose sole purpose was to issue canned press releases on the public policy issue of the day. Other organizations appeared to engage in original research and received a substantial amount of funding support from conservative philanthropies and foundations.
Special studies, op-ed pieces, and so-called “highly documented” studies, covering a broad swath of conservative/free market issues cascaded forth from these institutions. Similar to the Bush Administration’s faith-based initiative, where little attention has been paid to discovering whether these groups actually serve the public better than government agencies, much of the information generated by these think tanks was accepted without much investigation into the substance of their assertions. It appeared that the sheer volume of the material that was generated — especially when similar-conclusions came from different groups — was enough for editorial writers, reporters, op-ed writers and radio talk show hosts to spread their findings as gospel.
Berkowitz goes on to say that,
Uncovering the ties — and the amounts of money involved–between researchers and op-eders at right wing think tanks and industry lobbying groups and /or their powerful political patrons is no easy task. As the New York Times’ Philip Shenon recently noted, “Executives in the public relations and lobbying industries say that the hiring of outside commentators to promote special interests – typically by writing newspaper opinion articles or in radio and television interviews – does happen, although it is impossible to monitor since the payments do not have to be disclosed and can be disguised as speaking fees and other compensation.”
The Abramoff scandal, if pursued honestly, will lead directly to an investigation of the illegal use of tax-free contributions to fund the infrastructure of the so-called “conservative movement.”