A Too Common Media Practice That Is Per Se Unethical: The Purchased “Opinion”

"But remember---we tell you what opinion to express. Deal?"

“But remember—we tell you what opinion to express. Deal?”

Lanny Davis, the attorney and Washington D.C. political consultant who became a tiresome, repetitive and shameless presence on national television during the Monica crisis, has just authored a review of sorts of Hillary Clinton’s book, “Hard Choices.” On “The Hill,” he pronounces it a genuine portrait of its author, and as accurate as it is complimentary. “No, Hillary Clinton hasn’t changed through all the years: the importance of family and friends, the “service gene” as active today as I witnessed some 45 years ago,” David writes, ” motivating her to “never quit — never stop working to make the world a better place.”

Maybe the book is wonderful, and maybe it isn’t; about that, I do not care. Davis begins with a lie: he says that the book’s sales “are strong,” when the buzz on the web, and not just among those rooting for Clinton to fall on her face, is how disappointing sales are. But Davis is paid by his clients to shade the truth; I’m not going to quibble about the deceit inherent in “strong.”

This, however, matters, and it is a long-held pet peeve of mine: Lanny Davis works for the Clintons. He has for years. If he is not currently on Hillary’s payroll, he will be, or is angling to be: pick a, b, or c. The conclusion is the same no matter which it is: he is biased; he will personally benefit from endorsing Hillary and her book, and thus his article, which purports to be an honest, objective, reliable assessment, is almost certainly nothing of the kind.

Does David disclose his past, present or future connection to the Clintons? Sort of. Here is the description of Davis published by The Hill to accompany his “review”:

“Davis served as special counsel to former President Clinton, is principal in the Washington law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, and is executive vice president of the strategic communications firm, Levick. He is the author of a recently published book, Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life.”

Is that enough? I don’t thinks so. If Hillary is currently Davis’s client, “The Hill’s” readers should know. If he is paid a single cent by Clinton to write this puff piece, readers should know that too, so they can judge the “opinion” of Davis accordingly. Ah, but there’s a catch! If Davis is hired to work for Clinton as a lawyer, then he can’t disclose the relationship without her permission. The fact of the representation is confidential. Fine. If the only way Davis can ethically stump for Hillary in the media is to reveal information he is not allowed to reveal, then it is unethical for him to stump for her and pretend he’s doing it gratis.
The real ethics miscreant here is “The Hill,” just like any media outlet that presents paid political operatives as pundits to its audience. Karl Rove isn’t a pundit; Donna Brazile isn’t a pundit. James Carville and Mary Matalin aren’t pundits. These people and their like make their livings by representing political interests and the points of view of others. Representing their contributions to “Meet the Press” and similar shows as objective in any way, or even as true opinions, is deceptive and lazy journalism.
Look at it this way: if the description of Davis was fair and properly informative, it would read something like, “Lanny Davis is a lawyer and political operative who has been paid for various jobs by the Clintons for decades, and is completely incapable of uttering a negative word about either of them, because his livelihood depends on it.” Would the Hill print his “opinion” piece raving about Hillary Clinton’s book if it had to be introduced with that disclaimer? I doubt it.
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Pointer: WF

One thought on “A Too Common Media Practice That Is Per Se Unethical: The Purchased “Opinion”

  1. Lanny Davis is the colorless little clown that Fox News trots out every once in a while when they need a genuine left wing boob to show off. He makes Leon “I’ll Wonk For Food” Panetta look like a sparkling wit by comparison.

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