The Boston Globe Will No Longer Let John Sununu Shill For Telecom Companies Under The Pretense Of Objectivity

from the sockpuppets-marching dept

Like so many industries, the telecom industry employs a literal army of paid "consultants," fauxcademics, fake consumer advocates, ex-politicians and other talking heads to parrot industry policy under the pretense of objective analysis. Usually this sockpuppet army is used to build a sound wall of illusory support for shitty policy. This practice has worked for decades, in large part, because very rarely can newspapers or websites be bothered to disclose the fact that these individuals are paid to spew total and absolute nonsense by anybody interested in hiring their services via a third party (usually a law firm or lobbying group).

Case in point: the Boston Globe apparently has declared that it will no longer allow former New Hampshire Senator John Sununu to proudly shill for telecom companies within the publication's hallowed halls. Sununu is on the board of directors for Time Warner Cable, and has been paid $750,000 to be an "honorary co-chair" for broadband industry lobbying group Broadband for America. As a loyal hireling, Sununu can often be found repeating broadband industry dreck in media outlets everywhere, whether that's the claim that net neutrality rules will destroy the Internet, or that Netflix is a vile monster getting a "free ride" on ISP networks and must be punished.

Historically, when Sununu parrots writes for the Globe, the paper has simply described him as "a former Republican senator from New Hampshire, (who) writes regularly for the Globe," without bothering to disclose that somebody's often paying for Sununu's time. Despite years of this, only recently has the Globe come under fire for its flimsy-to-nonexistent transparency policies for Sununu and other freelance contributors.

Globe editorial-page editor Ellen Clegg recently responded to this criticism by stating the paper would no longer be sharing Sununu's telecom-related insights:
"In the interest of more transparency, we’re posting bios for our regular freelance op-ed columnists online and linking those bios to their bylines. John Sununu has told me he will avoid writing about issues pertaining to cable and internet access because of his seat on the Time Warner Cable board."
Note Clegg's primary worry appears to be Sununu's seat on a cable company board, not the fact that he's been paid by a lobbying group since 2011 or so. Sununu can, of course, still write on other issues where his conflicts of interest are at least marginally obscured in some half-assed fashion. Clegg goes on to make some ambiguous promises in regards to shoring up any transparency gaps moving forward:
"It’s safe to say that few freelance columnists make their living solely from writing for newspapers these days, so most have other jobs or consultancies. We want to be more transparent with our readers about the nature of columnists’ work and affiliations. When appropriate, we’ll include relevant details in the text of the print edition of the column, as well as the link for our digital readers."
Great, except it's not entirely clear that just posting a bio is enough, since those bios often intentionally obscure direct financial relationships. Take a recent Sununu piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, for example, which actively helps Sununu and friends confuse customers by pretending the telecom lobbying group that pays Sununu, "Broadband For America," is actually "a coalition of 300 Internet consumer advocates, content providers and engineers."

It takes about twenty minutes of research to discover "Broadband For America" is primarily a big-telecom lobbying vessel, funded almost solely by the cable industry, whose broader roster of members are included to create the illusion of diversity (often to their own surprise). These connections don't require back-breaking journalism to make; the money trail and faux objectivity is usually only obscured by the thinnest of veneers. Yet apparently, it took the Globe the better part of five years to decide it might be a good idea to highlight their purportedly objective telecom-related editorials were being written by a paid lobbyist.

And Sununu's just one of thousands of discourse-polluting mouthpieces employed by the telecom sector. Former Senator and fair use champ Rick Boucher now works for Sidley Austin's "Government Strategy Group," one of countless AT&T lobbying vessels for policy regurgitation. When Boucher gets paid by AT&T to argue that CISPA would be good for privacy or pretend the broadband industry is ultra-competitive, you'd be hard pressed to find a single news outlet willing to highlight the umbilical cord that affixes him to the AT&T mothership.

And that's just two former politicians. There are thousands of other academics, consultants, politicians, think tankers and freelance telecom editorialists happy to regurgitate any and everything for pay, whether that's cheering Comcast's latest merger or insisting the broadband industry is secretly, wonderfully competitive. While this lack of transparency is common across the board in media, you'd think that journalism-lecture-happy newspapers in particular would be the first in line to proactively highlight dubious editorial funding relationships.

Filed Under: disclosure, john sununu, net neutrality, shills, telecom
Companies: boston globe, broadband for america, netflix


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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2015 @ 4:06pm

    "very rarely can newspapers or websites be bothered to disclose the fact that these individuals are paid to spew total and absolute nonsense"

    As at Techdirt? WOW. Unconscious TOTAL projection. Strong evidence that you are a re-writing bot. I can't imagine such void of self-awareness that would allow a human to write so exact a parallel to own situation in light of all the accusations thrown at you (whether true or not). I suppose it's possible you're on drugs, though.

    Aren't you the minion with Official Narrative from NYTimes that the Russians are "filling the internet with toxic disinformation"? The one who put Google Fiber into every ISP story? Who writes on a handful of villains: Comcast, ATT, or cable companies in general?

    Yes. SO, now, disclose your own sources of income, m'kay?


    "hollowed walls" would be good pun if you'd first cast Sununu as a rat, but I'm sure it's just a typo.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Vidiot (profile), 2 Sep 2015 @ 4:17pm

      Re: "very rarely can newspapers or websites be bothered to disclose the fact that these individuals are paid to spew total and absolute nonsense"

      Note to self: Buy stock in Reynolds Aluminum. Hat season is around the corner!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2015 @ 4:27pm

      Re: "very rarely can newspapers or websites be bothered to disclose the fact that these individuals are paid to spew total and absolute nonsense"

      Another great example of "illusionary support" by your neighborhood Techdirt Troll. Personally I would be more interested in where YOU get YOUR income. After all it is polite to introduce yourself first, and if you won't reveal your sources of income why would you expect Techdirt to do it?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Shill, 2 Sep 2015 @ 4:38pm

      Re: "very rarely can newspapers or websites be bothered to disclose the fact that these individuals are paid to spew total and absolute nonsense"

      Yes, we all know Google is entirely funded by piracy and broadband needs caps because everyone will pirate all the bandwidth with pirated content which will clog up the intertubes and we all know that Techdirt is entirely funded by Google.

      So Google is entirely funded by piracy
      Techdirt is entirely funded by Google
      Techdirt is entirely funded by piracy!!
      QED

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2015 @ 9:24pm

      Re:

      Actually you're the one project in so hard we could use you for iMAX showings. And speaking of drugs, how fucking high are you to think we give a shit about your imaginary Google conspiracy? Seriously do the world a favor and end yourself.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Shill, 2 Sep 2015 @ 4:32pm

    And Techdirt is about freedom of speech yet you don't want shills to be able to express their opinion like anyone else?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2015 @ 4:33pm

    Ethics used to be thing, good common sense in hiring as well , you don't hire a dingo babysitter and expect him to be honest when the baby goes missing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tqk (profile), 2 Sep 2015 @ 6:10pm

    RIP Print Journalism. :-(

    Pretty sad to see an entire profession just wink out and disappear. I knew the Internet had rocked it back onto its heels (more timely, advertising support migrated), but I wasn't yet expecting to see paid infomercials on the editorial pages of the likes of the Boston Globe.

    On the bright side, holy crap the telcos are wasting a potload buying shills to fill empty echo chambers! Wow.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Shill, 2 Sep 2015 @ 7:27pm

      Re: RIP Print Journalism. :-(

      It's not entirely that 'traditional' news sources used to be a good source of news and, suddenly, they're not. It's, at least partly, that the competition is showing how bad they have always been the only difference is that back then they didn't have to compete in today's atmosphere.

      For example just look at the anti-piracy nonsense the MPAA and other mainstream media nonsense used to deliver in the past (and even the present).

      https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20101005/12204511290/why-won-t-universal-music-let-you-se e-the-20-20-report-from-1980-about-how-the-music-industry-is-dying.shtml


      https://www.youtube.com/watc h?v=7Vz7Z42Fl9s

      So embarrassing in light of today's media environment that they would try everything they can to remove it because their propaganda is that obvious today. but back then who can possibly call them out for their nonsense.

      https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140106/16440725779/60-minutes-vs-vice-kim-dotcom-neithe r-one-goes-deep-into-issues.shtml

      https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091101/1818186751.shtml

      In fact a lot of people used to, years back, always tell me that cops cover a lot of things up. Back in the day I thought most of it was exaggerated (and I still do, I think most cops are good) but, with the advent of the smart phones and the Internet and everything winding up there somehow, everyone says that the only difference between now and years back is that cops get caught on video whereas back then they would get away with their misdeeds. and while I do think much of it is exaggerated modern media has given credibility to this (though the bigger issue I see is them somehow escaping the same punishment or greater that a regular citizen would face and the fact that the burden of proof against cops must be very great when compared to that of an ordinary citizen just to get an investigation going though perhaps/hopefully everyone getting upset about this is starting to change this a bit. It shouldn't take clear and unambiguous publicly available footage of police abusing their power just to hopefully get an investigation going and anything less will almost certainly result in an investigation that goes nowhere just to appease the public assuming you can even get an investigation in the first place).

      Here is another link arguing that competition is harming mainstream programming and content sources.

      https://soylentnews.org/article.pl?sid=15/09/01/1253229

      These days news is much more niche (vs newspapers which attempt to appeal to a very general public). Techdirt (and Soylentnews and Slashdot) are examples of this. You have message boards that focus on psycology, ones that focus on law, ones that focus on tech, etc... and with more media diversity people naturally gravitate to news and entertainment sources that better fit their niches. This hurts mainstream, one size fits all, programming.

      Though, the counter argument is that past 'mainstream sources' did bring along some very very good content as well. I Love Lucy, Andy Griffith, John Wayne, I Dream of Jeanie, Beethoven, Mozart, etc... Then again you can argue that the non-mainstream sources of the past did become mainstream. For instance Hollywood was built on piracy and was, at one time, the new age of entertainment and news. Same with television. Eventually it became mainstream allowing for more efficient and elaborate delivery. Then came the Internet which is pretty much mainstream already (ie: Netflix).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    ottermaton (profile), 2 Sep 2015 @ 6:55pm

    Great conversation here!

    We get a total lunatic spew some nonsense, then people who apparently don't know any better reply to him. It's just awesome.

    Seriously, report the troll and the people who respond to him. It will (eventually) suffocate the troll so there can be actual intelligent discussion.

    Or, you know, you can just continue to empower him by replying to him. It's exactly what he wants.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 2 Sep 2015 @ 7:53pm

      Re: Great conversation here!

      I like how in an effort to fight spam posts, you resort to spam posts. Report all his comments if you feel like it, but enough with the freakin' comments about how other people don't do the same.

      There's also the part where you're just flat out wrong. Blue's been here for how many years? Clearly reporting his comments isn't stopping him from posting, or even notably slowing them down, so your tactic isn't doing squat other than adding yet more spam, making the problem worse, not better.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ottermaton (profile), 3 Sep 2015 @ 5:50am

        Re: Re: Great conversation here!

        There's also the part where you're just flat out wrong.

        I'm afraid the who is wrong here is you. I did this "campaign" once before and (some) people got on board and were reporting everyone who replied to him. You'd see loooong threads of comments that were hidden. Guess what happened? (Yea, you can see this coming) His comments evaporated. For a while, at least.

        This was about 9-12 months ago, maybe a little more. Sorry, I didn't mark it down in my diary.

        making the problem worse, not better.

        Again, you're wrong. I'm actually trying to improve the situation, and have had success doing so in the past. If you just wanna sit there and bitch about what I'm doing, guess where that leaves you?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 3 Sep 2015 @ 6:59am

          Re: Re: Re: Great conversation here!

          And yet here he/she is, right back to posting. Not only that, but since they now know you're going to flip out every time they post and someone responds, guess what, you just handed them even more motivation to do so. Congrats, I'm sure they'll stop any day now with that knowledge.

          If you just wanna sit there and bitch about what I'm doing, guess where that leaves you?

          The same position as you, except not? You're bitching and moaning that people aren't doing what you want, spamming the comment sections in the process. You don't fight spam by posting it, report their posts if you want, but enough with the spam insisting that everyone else follow suit. Some of us see nothing wrong with replying, not for the troll's sake, but for others who might read the comments posted.

          Funnily enough, I'm sure Blue quite enjoys your antics, unlike those of us who are tired of them. They've got to get a real kick out of knowing that not only are they getting under your skin so much, but that they basically get two spam posts for the cost of one, theirs and yours.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            ottermaton (profile), 3 Sep 2015 @ 7:19am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Great conversation here!

            Some of us see nothing wrong with replying, not for the troll's sake, but for others who might read the comments posted.

            Yes, thank goodness there are people like you with your giant intellects to come around and protect people who might be persuaded by his lunacy. You're such a hero!

            /sarcasm

            Seriously, do you really think so little of the average person that they can't figure out that Blue is full of shit all by themselves? Do you really think you're that much smarter than everyone?

            (Don't bother. It's clear the answer is "Yes" to both of those questions).

            Funnily enough, I'm sure Blue quite enjoys your antics,

            Actually, I am positive he doesn't because he sure whined about it last time.

            Although, come to think of it, you may be right this time. He's got you and a few others on his team. Way to go! Aren't you proud of yourself?

            They've got to get a real kick out of knowing that not only are they getting under your skin so much,

            It's funny that you think (but are wrong) that they get under my skin, but fail to see that is exactly what Blue is doing when he gets all those responses. And now he's got you on his side. Brilliant!

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              That One Guy (profile), 3 Sep 2015 @ 7:46am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Great conversation here!

              Condescending attitude and insults, it's like you're trying to be just as bad as the troll you're criticizing.

              The vast majority of Blue's arguments may be stupid, but you don't change minds by just saying 'That's stupid', you do it by explaining why a given claim wrong, so that other people can see and understand the topic being discussed when it is brought up later.

              Another commenter replied to you in another thread noting that there have been some excellent discussions that originated as replies to troll posts, something that I have also seen myself, and if the 'price' of those discussions is humoring the trolls a bit, 'wasting' time showing why they're wrong in their claims, that's a perfectly acceptable trade to me.

              Although, come to think of it, you may be right this time. He's got you and a few others on his team. Way to go! Aren't you proud of yourself?

              Incorrect, I'm not on his side, I'm against yours. Far as I'm concerned you're both acting equally as bad with your spam and personal attack filled posts, with both of you posting the same crap over and over, and throwing insults at anyone who disagrees with you.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                ottermaton (profile), 3 Sep 2015 @ 8:48am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Great conversation here!

                Condescending attitude and insults

                Please point out specifically where I've insulted you, at least any more than you have insulted me.

                As for condescension, has it occurred to you that maybe your preachy, know-better-than-thou attitude brought that on?

                Incorrect, I'm not on his side, I'm against yours. Far as I'm concerned ...

                Oh, ok. So you're allowed to express your opinion, but I should refrain from doing the same. Gotcha.

                Hypocrite much?

                Regardless of your intent, the effect is of you being on the troll's side. Good job!

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2015 @ 7:02pm

    So that takes care of Sununu. What about the countless other shills, for countless other industries? Or even just the other shills for the telecom industry, for that matter...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Sep 2015 @ 7:29pm

    No, it only takes care of Sununu at ONE media source. He's still gonna spout his nonsense all over everywhere else across the nation. Then you got a whole army behind that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Sep 2015 @ 2:02am

    There once was an out_of_the_blue
    Who hated the process of due
    Each shill that he'd paid
    Was DMCAed
    And shoved up his ass with a screw

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    cubicleslave (profile), 3 Sep 2015 @ 7:00am

    This is one more reason I don't read newspapers regularly (except for the grocery ads). Newspaper is good for starting the BBQ and not much else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    MikeNyrgs (profile), 9 Sep 2015 @ 11:10am

    That someone is paid to present a point of view that he or she is likely to agree with isn't terribly concerning, although their relevant association should absolutely be provided, and which in this case is Mr. Sununu role in supporting Broadband for America. But what caught my eye was the report that he's received $750K for serving as 'honorary co-chair.' Yikes!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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