Lame counter-attack on Javers

The pro-payola people have launched a lame counter attack on Javers. Before we begin, note that even if they could prove Javers guilty of some wrong-doing, it would not mean that Fumento was not guilty of unethical behaviour. Anyway, Fumento is really excited:

Well, there's now enough evidence to bring Javers to the stake. And I don't mean using the new rules of journalistic ethics he invented on-the-spot, applied specifically to me, and made retroactive. No, these are the tried and true old rules he violated.

Disclosing payments you received from a company when you write about them are not new rules and Javers did not invent them or apply them. Scripps Howard, not Javers, fired Fumento.

So what terrible thing did Javers do? Lisa De Pasquale starts by misrepresenting the reason for Fumento's firing:

Even though Monsanto's grant to the Hudson Institute ended in 2000 and Fumento didn't begin writing on biotechnology issues for Scripps Howard until 2003, Javers thinks he's a corporate whistleblower. He raced to the Batphone, called Scripps Howard, and Fumento was promptly fired.

Fumento wasn't fired because he received the payments, but because he failed to disclose them. Then De Pasquale tries to show that Javers did the same thing as in her false version of the Fumento firing:

Javers is the former editor in chief of the now defunct Business Forward magazine. In the July/August 2002 issue, the "Snapshot" section shows photos from the magazine's Big Hitters Golf Classic, "18 holes of networking, schmoozing and competition" at the famous Bretton Woods golf course. Among the paid sponsors listed is Patton Boggs, a large Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm. In the same issue that boasted about their schmoozing with event sponsors, Javers listed "The Forty Forward," an annual list of influential people doing business in Washington, D.C. Some of the heavy hitters who made the list include Tom Boggs of Patton Boggs, Bob Pittman, Steve Case and Ted Leonsis of AOL Time Warner, David Rubenstein of The Carlyle Group and John Sidgemore of WorldCom. In another issue, Javers named John Mars of Mars Inc. the "Best Private-Company CEO" and Steve Case the "Best Public-Company CEO." lists Mars Inc., AOL, WorldCom and The Carlyle Group as clients of Patton Boggs. AOL and Mars Inc. were two of their top three clients during that time.

This is, to say the least, very weak. How does this differ from the Fumento case? Let me count the ways.

1. Patton Boggs was one of eight sponsors of a golf tournament. But this is just a form of advertising, designed to generate a bit of goodwill towards the sponsor from the players. The whole point of it is that everyone knows the sponsor helped fund the event. On the other hand, Monsanto's $60,000 payment to Fumento was kept secret.

2. Javers did not get the money from Patton Boggs -- it helped pay for the golfing event. Monsanto's grant paid Fumento's salary. Fumento defenders argue that he didn't get any salary increase as a result, but Fumento made it clear that Hudson fellows are expected to raise funds, so if he hadn't got the grant, he could well have lost his job there by now.

3. Javers did name Mars and Case as best CEOS, but Mars and Case did not sponsor the tournament, nor did their companies, but a lobbying firm with their companies as clients. This is pretty tenuous.

4. De Pasquale doesn't mention when Javers named Mars and Case as best CEOs, nor does she link to the article where he did it. This may perhaps be because then her readers would learn that the naming, which she insinuates was paid for by the golf sponsorship, happened well before the sponsorship. Yes, for De Pasquale to make even the very weak case she did, she had to conceal a key fact.

Just as the left and right of blogspace came together to condemn Fumento's lack of ethics, Murray and De Pasquale's support of pundit payola is being condemned by both sides. Cathy Young isn't pleased:

The only thing this pathetic self-pitying argument can do is compromise conservative writers by pegging them as likely shills. ... Of course, if Murray's argument were to be taken at face value, it would logically follow that it is in the Right's interest to undermine the most basic principles of journalistic ethics.

By Murray's and De Pasquale's "logic," there is no essential difference between opinion articles and the paid "advertorials" that lobbying groups, businesses, and political organizations sometimes place in newspapers and magazines. The day I believe that, I'll be looking for another line of work.

Brad Delong put it like this

Say, rather, that there are (i) people who write what they believe; (ii) people who write what they are paid to write; and (iii) people who write what they are paid to write but who want you to think they write what they believe. People in category (iii) are--by their own actions--less credible and less trustworthy than people in categories (i) and (ii). Evaluating their arguments is difficult, time consuming, and requires constant research and fact checking.

Given that there are many too many good people working hard in categories (i) and (ii) to read, is there ever any reason to ever read anybody in category (iii)? I can't think of one.

A more interesting question: is there ever any reason to read anybody, like Iain Murray, who tells us that it doesn't matter which category--(i), (ii), or (iii)--people are in? Once again, I can't think of one.


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In the sixth para you've got the odd typo 'Eavers' instead of 'Javers' (I say odd because they're far apart on qwerty keyboards. Perhaps you're using the Dvorak keyboard layout, on which they're adjacent?)

Oh, what I heard was that two wrongs make a right and that hypocrisy of ones accuser excuses any crime of the accused. That is why when Cookie Monster nailed me in Business Week for having my hand in the cookie jar, the accusations just would not stick.

I fixed the typo, and no I don't use a Dvorak keyboard.

But that reminds me that I should write a post on the Qwerty vs Dvorak thing...

Can you let me know how to get in touch with my old friend Ron Javers. We went to school and grew up together in Phila. I'm sure there is a way to find out his e mail address using the internet but my children can do anything when it involves their own needs but when I ask they usually say " I don't know ". Thank You.

By henry mckee (not verified) on 18 Jan 2007 #permalink