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Just in case you're skimming: this comes at the end of a bit of a saga for Lehrer, who had also been discovered "plagiarizing himself", recycling significant chunks of previously-published work in new New Yorker pieces. No doubt there's been a fine-toothed comb running through everything he's done since that first story broke.

At the same time Gladwell (another New Yorker writer) was exposed for being a corporate shill, something quite more serious. Nothing happened.

I've never heard of this until now. Reading the article people have mentioned below:


Well, it's a really badly written article, full of "association" but I can't really find anything damning, just a bunch of innuendo, which could be invented about most any sufficiently prolific journalist.

I've read a lot of Gladwell's writing -- the only main theme I can find is that he just tends to write articles that fly in the face of received wisdom. That's his whole shtick. He plays devil's advocate.

So obviously, if he defends unpopular positions, you can read into that all you want, but I don't see any real evidence that it's ideological or driven by corporate support. It's just his writing style, and you can probably find just as many counter-examples.

No, being a "corporate shill" is not "quite more serious" than fabricating quotes.

It depends what the magnitude of the transgression is, and whether you are a journalist or non-journalist.

If you are a journalist, the faking of a quote, even if it's something as benign as, "Sally Smith, an 8-year-old from Chicago, said, 'I really love the clowns. They mak eme smile'" is punishable by the (journalistic) death penalty. No one was harmed, especially if 'Sally Smith' was herself made up, yet such a writer would have a very, very hard time finding work at a reputable non-fiction publication.

To a non-journalist (who, in this case, is anti-fossil-fuel), though, someone who worked in the Exxon PR department as an entry level job out of college and then worked his/her way into a respectable columnist position, would always have the taint of Big Oil Money...even if said columnist never fabricated a quote in his/her career.

Interesting. The real life example of the non-journalist who took an entry level job in a field he later covered would be Michael Lewis, author of "Liar's Poker" and "The Big Short". Even though both books condemn the excesses and stupidity of his former industry, and even though "Liar's Poker" ended up having the unintended consequence of drawing new hires because of the excesses, I still wouldn't consider him a shill for the investment banks.

  > To a non-journalist (who, in this case, is anti-fossil-fuel)
Was that necessary? BTW, I am not against use of fossil fuels. Misdirected ad-hominem.

Oops, sorry. No, it wasn't directed at you. Sorry, the hypothetical non-journalist.

My point was that the consequences of the transgressions of plagiarism and shilling are relative to whether you're a non-journalist or a journalist, and less so about the actual worldly-impact of such transgressions.

IOW, both you and tptacek are right...but it depends on from what perspective you're looking at this from. Lehrer will likely never get a writing gig as prestigious as the New Yorker, even though what he allegedly did pretty much hurts no one (but the trivial truth).

Another example: in the military, lying about a medal is hugely dishonorable -- the U.S. Navy's supreme commander committed suicide when Newsweek questioned two "valor" pins. But you could be a commander whose decisions resulted in needless destruction/deaths and still get an honorable discharge. The latter case had more actual real-life impact, but the former case resulted in more "punishment" within the group.

"No, being a 'corporate shill' is not 'quite more serious' than fabricating quotes."

How do you figure? Do you actually think that corporate shills cause less harm to society than people fabricating a few (largely inconsequential) quotes?

> Do you actually think that corporate shills cause less harm to society than people fabricating a few (largely inconsequential) quotes?

If I'm allowed to parenthetically assume that the shilling also is "largely inconsequential", then yes, it causes less harm.

If you actually look at the quotes made up by most of these journalists, they are mostly things about the weather that day and the color of the house or whatever. Look at the actual quotes from the Jason Blaire scandal, it's all completely trivial stuff.

On the other hand, it's hard to argue that cigarettes aren't actually dangerous, since they kill around 500,000 Americans per year.

Coming up with ways your customer is right isn't necessarily offensive, so long as he isn't lying. Being biased in the way that you're paid to isn't necessarily evil, though it's arguably more questionable, but this is how advertising, law, consumer advocacy and other entire industries work.

Accentuate the positives, believe the same truths your customers believe.

If you're a journalist, whose job it is to report the truth and nothing more, lying of any sort is arguably the gravest offense you can commit (short of rape, murder, etc.)

Fabricating quotes is doing a sloppy, lazy job of defending one's position. Selling one's position, on the other hand, is clearly more serious.

This sounds like a defense of "truthiness" to me. A position not defensible with facts is an indefensible position. If you look at the media you find those corners of the media with an atmosphere of truthiness are those that produce the most harmful positions.

"making stuff up" is worse than "constructing a biased argument"

Making up Dylan quotes seems a lot more benign than discouraging people from suing tobacco companies and saying Ritalin is safe.

Making up shameful quotes for a prominant politician seems a lot less benign than discouraging people from purchasing a competitor's product.

"I like to grab old women's tits from behind, they never know what's coming" laughed the mayoral candidate in a private moment last night. By the way, Coke is better than Pepsi.

Even if that were the case (not IMHO) it's still very bad and Gladwell just brushed it off.

"Comparing being a shill to fabricating quotes is preposterous, they are such different things that have a huge and overlapping spectrum of possible impact" -Ben Franklin

random source from the Wikipedia article: http://exiledonline.com/malcolm-gladwell-unmasked-a-look-int...

That source is atrocious

I disagree. Gladwell's long standing self-disclosure is a serious analysis on his own motivations and corporate relationships. http://www.gladwell.com/disclosure.html . Claiming that he is a corporate shill seems unfair. Despite his "igonvalues" issues, I haven't seen any serious corporate bias in his works. Are you sure your own remarks aren't due to some bias that you may have?

To what are you referring? And how did this fly completely out of my radar?

Top link from googling "gladwell corporate shill"



  * pushed ritalin for big pharma
  * defending tobacco corporations on settlements
  * advocating for financial deregulation
  * and defending Enron executives
Allegedly rewarded $1m/yr for speaking by undisclosed corporations. Significantly more than what he makes as journalist or writer.

This case against Gladwell as a corporate shill is weak. The article cherry-picks a handful of controversial (sometimes wrong, whatever) positions that align with corporate interests. Note that not all of his positions do, the entire thesis of Outliers is offensive to many in the corporate world.

There's no evidence of a quid pro quo anywhere.

Quid pro quo is a red herring. Conflicts of interest rarely work that way. They are more subtle than that, so we can keep our self-image of being neutral when in fact our actions have been corrupted. There is much experimental work being done on this. Here is a (long, but relevant) quote from a recent post by Dan Ariely on the topic:

The real issue here is that people don’t understand how profound the problem of conflicts of interest really is, and how easy it is to buy people. Doctors on Pfizer’s payroll may think they’re not being influenced by the drug maker — “I can still be objective!” they’ll say — but in reality, it’s very hard for us not to be swayed by money. Even minor amounts of it. Or gifts. Studies have found that doctors who receive free lunches or samples from pharmaceutical reps end up prescribing more of the company’s drugs afterwards. It’s just a fact of human life: we are compelled to reciprocate favors, and an ingrained inability to disregard what’s in our financial interest. As author Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” http://danariely.com/2012/07/09/disclosure-not-good-enough/

As I understand it, the experimental evidence is clear that measures like self-regulation, intuitive judgement, and disclosure are nowhere near sufficient to prevent the corrupting effects of conflicts of interest. What we need are new, simple rules grounded in the empirical findings. We're a long way from that, and it seems that such rules are likely to seem pretty extreme by today's standards, but as long as the science continues to pile up this way it seems like we will eventually have a shot at cleaning things up.

I see where you're coming from, but I worry about the standard of evidence being thrown around. Is anyone who says something that aligns with a corporate interest a "shill"? It seems to be easy to allege and impossible to disprove.

Surely there is a gradation at some point along which a word like "shill" becomes applicable. I don't know where that line is. Is anyone who says something that aligns with a corporate interest plus takes a million dollars from said interest a "shill"?

I like a good muckraking as much as the next guy but in the end, judging individual actors as "shills" or whatever obscures the important issues, which are systemic. It may even be that tarring a few people as shills and frauds is a big mistake insofar as the rest of us then take that as a license to let ourselves off the hook.

In my opinion academia, medicine, and journalism (to pick three pretty important institutions) are all corrupt in this systemic way, a way that has little to do with individual choice (apart from a few ethically gifted souls whom we can all admire but mostly won't imitate) and much to do with human nature. And this is a big, big deal because it deeply affects what those institutions are producing. Think of all the work done on how big pharma gets doctors to push their product into people who don't need it, or about how journalists are mollified by "access" (friendly personal contact) with powerful people they're covering.

The really great thing about what researchers like Ariely are doing is that it could lead to an objective basis for preventing the conditions for corruption from arising in the first place. Can you imagine what a difference that would make to society?

There may be no explicit quid pro quo, but he definitely functions as a shill would. He may be objective and contrarian in his own mind, and yet desire to please the powerful like any other human. He gets a ton of money for speaking to corporations, which he would not if he spoke against them.

Wow, the case is really weak. And I don't even like Malcolm Gladwell.

In 2007, Gladwell took up the financial industry’s cause. He argued that Enron’s investors were to blame for their losses, rather than accounting fraud, which he dismissed. His "analysis" was debunked and mocked by U.C. Berkeley Economics Professor Brad DeLong.

That same year, 2007, Gladwell hailed ex-Goldman Sachs CEO Hank Paulson’s move to head the Treasury Department, praising him for being among those “self-selected toward public service. . . ” Gladwell did not mention that Paulson saved himself roughly $100 million in taxes by moving straight from Goldman Sachs to Treasury.

He's a contrarian. Maybe wrong, maybe even stupid. But that is different than corruption.

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to have affected his popularity, his income, or people's tendency to suspend rational thought and go ga-ga over his latest profundity.

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