A Brief Note on the "Gentlemen's Agreement", Which is Not Just for Defense Lobbyists
TV analysts from all sorts of industries are identified by long-ago official titles, not current lobbying gigs
In reply to the many comments and questions received about Matt Orfalea’s brutal “Weapons” mashup released this morning (and re-posted above), a quick note:
As some readers correctly pointed out, defense is only the most conspicuous example of the phenomenon in which TV news programs identify guests by illustrious past official titles, and not by their current lobbying ties or positions on corporate boards. This happens in most every industry, from health care to big Pharma to energy to Big Tech and beyond.
It’s easy to find examples. FAIR co-founder Jeff Cohen, when he wrote about this a few years back, cited CNN’s Don Lemon bringing on “former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina” to talk about why the Bernie Sanders Medicare for All proposal “will scare swing voters and scare Democrats.” Lemon and CNN never let on that Messina’s more recent job at the aptly-named Messina Group made him a de facto spokesperson for corporations like Google, Uber, Delta, and other companies with whom Sanders had tangled.
We saw similar patterns of non-disclosure throughout the pandemic. Below, CNN host Brianna Keilar does a segment about how “The FDA has offered a booster dose for Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine,” then brings on former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb to discuss the subject, not mentioning — on air, anyway — that he’s a current Pfizer board member. Even print treatments don’t always bring up Gottlieb’s corporate job, although outlets like CBS and NPR have done better with this of late.
Blue-party fossil Tom Daschle is still introduced most often as a former Senate Majority Leader, even though his day job for nearly a decade has been hoovering cash from health care titans like Aetna and Blue Cross/Blue Shield at firms like Alston & Bird and DLA Piper. In 2019, again when Medicare for All became a campaign issue, we saw Daschle reappear in headlines like the following classic at US News and World Report:
Daschle: Medicare for All Not ‘a Political Reality’
Building on the existing Affordable Care Act would be a better plan, the former Senate Majority Leader told attendees of the U.S. News Healthcare of Tomorrow conference…
The disclosure issue sounds like a minor ethical issue in journalism, but gets to the heart of a big problem in American politics, namely that crucial policy decisions at every level are influenced by the promise of life-changing money somewhere down the line. Bank regulators and securities enforcement officials may hesitate in enforcement roles, knowing a private sector job worth millions or billions (yes, billions) could be waiting, so long as they don’t play too rough with investigatory targets.
Now, a new variable has been introduced: the TV network that allows ex-officials to take jobs as lobbyists and sign on for paid on-air contributor gigs at the same time. These incentives influence the in-office behavior of officials, but also the public commentary such people give after leaving. Now, if you know where the financial rewards are, it’s not hard for any politician to build public positions in advance to maximize the chances of catching those rewards later on.
Activists worried about corporate influence traditionally focused on money that supported politicians on their way to office. Because so many races are not contested, and congressional races in particular are often decided by pittances of support in commercial terms, an equally important factor is securing allegiance from an official in the years after he or she has left an elected post. TV gigs have become a major part of this system, and sadly, it isn’t just weapons lobbyists cashing in.