Media

A Brief Note on the “Gentlemen’s Agreement”, Which is Not Just for Defense Lobbyists

By Matt Taibbi

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:

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