Creating Neutral Experts

The Revealer has a good critique of newspaper sourcing practices when quoting “experts” from think tanks. The NYT acknowledge in a story today that they were caught out in their earlier reporting of The Lincoln Group’s activities in Iraq. The Lincoln Group a PR outfit with ten million dollars worth of contracts in Iraq has been under investigation for paying to get pro-US stories in local Iraqi media and most recently paying Sunni clerics for their support.

Last month when the story broke, and again this morning, the NYT quotes “Michael Rubin, a Middle East scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington research organization” as an outside expert. They acknowledge this morning that Rubin may not be just a disinterested scholar:

Mr. Rubin was quoted last month in The New York Times about Lincoln’s work for the Pentagon placing articles in Iraqi publications: “I’m not surprised this goes on,” he said, without disclosing his work for Lincoln. “Especially in an atmosphere where terrorists and insurgents – replete with oil boom cash – do the same. We need an even playing field, but cannot fight with both hands tied behind our backs.”

However The Revealer’s Jeff Sharlet makes the more pertinent point:

This obscures the fact that Rubin is not a “scholar” in the traditional sense of the term, but a committed neoconservative activist, a former official of the Coalition Provisional Authority, and, according to two reliable reporters in the liberal magazine Mother Jones, one of Wolfowitz’s cheerleaders in the early stages of the war.

This doesn’t mean Rubin shouldn’t be quoted in the paper, but it does mean that he should be identified as more than a “Middle East scholar.” Rubin’s an apparatchik.

And a loony one, to boot. The Times‘ ideology-erasure policy not only recasts conservatives (and in other cases, leftists) as centrists, it also gives its talking heads the appearance of reasonable detachment. You be the judge. (More about Rubin here, from the leftist International Relations Center.)

…Perspectives of people such as Rubin should be in the news — after all, he helped make the events under discussion happen — but they should not be categorized as outside “experts.” That’s like quoting a naked PETA activist as a neutral observer in an article about fur.

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