by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
appearances, corruption, facts, politics


Let's Try This Again: Even If There's No Corruption, The Appearance Of Corruption Hurts Representative Government

from the is-this-really-so-complex? dept

Last week, I wrote a post about how 87% of Congress Reps who signed a letter urging the FCC to approve the Comcast/NBC Universal merger (which I think should be approved) had received campaign contributions from Comcast, saying that "this is what corruption looks like." In the post, I explained this further, noting (I thought clearly -- but obviously not clearly enough) that there was no evidence of actual corruption, but just the appearance of such a strong correlation was likely to diminish people's trust in government. To me, that's a problem.

Unfortunately, rather than discuss that point, many people assumed I was saying that those supporting the merger were corrupt. This is not correct. I have already said (and said in that article) two key things: I support the merger and just because these contributions happened, it did not mean there was corruption, just that it created that appearance, and that appearance was damaging. There were even claims in the comments that my title and the content of the article did not agree, but that's simply false. I was pointing out what corruption looks like, which is why people don't trust the government to act in their best interests, even if there is no actual corruption.

That story got a lot of attention (picked up by Reddit, StumbleUpon, Fark and others). The comments on the Reddit post went down a similar road, and then was followed up with another post on Reddit that suggested it was debunking my "misleading" title (though, all it really seems to show is Comcast throws a lot of money around Congress -- which actually supports my thesis, but whatever...).

So, let me be clear: I still don't think my original title was misleading, but it certainly appears many people misread it, so I need to take responsibility for that misunderstanding. I never meant to imply in any way that there was actual corruption. What I meant to imply, and stated outright, was that it's the appearance of such things that makes people trust their government less, and I find that to be a problem. Others may disagree. When people hear and see such stories, a very large percentage of them trust governments less to act in their interest. And if you actually believe in representational government, that's a problem.

Finally, I should note some level of irony in the Reddit "debunking" post. I love Reddit dearly. It's a really great and fun community. However, I find it amusing that the post "debunking" my original post supposedly took to task Redditors who voted up the link to my original post for not getting all the details. Yet, the "debunking" post made the same mistake: it didn't get all the details, and falsely pretended that my story was accusing those politicians of corruption. I almost feel like I should post another thread on Reddit debunking the debunking post... but that might just be too damn meta.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2011 @ 9:52am

    The appearance of corruption is only highlighted when people mention numbers, stats, and data, and say things like "this is what corruption looks like".

    How hard is it to admit that your overdid it on the last post, with a title that was pure hype not backed up by the numbers? How hard is it to admit that when all the numbers are in play, you realize that the vast majority of all house members got donations from Comcast, so the 87% number isn't unlikely, nor does it reflect corruption?

    Be the bigger man. Rather than writing a huge long post to defend the indefensible, why not just come out and admit you over did it?

    After all, if it's a question of the "appearance of impropriety" that is at issue here, you are looking worse than the house members that signed the document.

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