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
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
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.