Search Results for: think tank


Peter Overby’s Story Gives Us More To Think About When It Comes To Think Tanks #

Please read and listen to Peter Overby’s story headlined “Who Controls Think Tanks? Shift In Funding Highlights Changes In The Industry.”

As Peter reports, think tanks are being “pulled away from their academic heritage” by several forces — including the pressures that come from being funded by “wealthy business people — in modern jargon, philanthro-capitalists — notably many from the tech industry.”

His story underscores why we’ve previously said that:

It’s Our Job To Know About ‘Experts’ Conflicts Of Interest.

- It’s wise to use’s “Cautionary Tip Sheet About Think Tanks.”

(“Memmos;” Sept. 20, 2017)


‘A Cautionary Tip Sheet’ About Think Tanks #

It is “our job to know about ‘experts’ conflicts of interest” and share that information with our audience (or not use experts whose conflicts are problematic).  As we’ve said, it’s not optional.

Click here for related reading from It includes “some questions journalists should ask when researching think tanks.” Among them:

- “Look at the think tank’s annual report. Who is on staff? On the board or advisory council? Search for these people. They have power over the think tank’s agenda; do they have conflicts of interest? Use OpenSecrets’ lobby search, a project of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, to see if any of these individuals are registered lobbyists and for whom. …

- “Does the organization focus on one issue alone? If so, look carefully at its funding. …

- “Does the organization clearly identify its political leanings or its neutrality? …

- “Does the annual report list donors and amounts? Are large donors anonymous? If the answer to the second question is yes, you should be concerned that big donors may be trying to hide their influence. …

- “Does it have a conflict of interest policy?”

(“Memmos;” May 30, 2017)



It’s Our Job To Know About ‘Experts’ Conflicts Of Interest #

This is not optional: Before we put “experts” in our stories, we have to know where their financial support comes from, who’s paid for their latest work and whether they’re doing any lobbying or advocating related to the issue we’re interviewing them about. It’s information that may knock them out of stories and needs to be shared if they stay in.

That all seems obvious. Why are we bringing it up now?

Well, if you haven’t read these two New York Times reports yet, do so:

- “How Think Tanks Amplify Corporate America’s Influence

- “Think Tank Scholar or Corporate Consultant? It Depends on the Day.”

This “nut graph” should concern us all:

“Think tanks, which position themselves as ‘universities without students,’ have power in government policy debates because they are seen as researchers independent of moneyed interests. But in the chase for funds, think tanks are pushing agendas important to corporate donors, at times blurring the line between researchers and lobbyists. And they are doing so while reaping the benefits of their tax-exempt status, sometimes without disclosing their connections to corporate interests.”

That’s troubling because news outlets are constantly interviewing “experts” from those think tanks. Many of those experts are getting into stories without any references to their connections to “moneyed interests” and lobbying groups. We aren’t perfect on that score. I suspect it’s because in some cases we didn’t do enough digging.

This is important: Just as we said that we have to ask experts about any connections they have to candidates, we have to be looking at the connections experts from think tanks, universities and other institutions might have to interest groups and others.

That means, as we said above, asking questions such as:

- Who’s funding your work?

- Who or what organization has supported you in the past?

- Who paid for the study?

- Is your organization (or school or think tank) taking any money from a corporation or organization with an interest in the issue?

- Are you lobbying or advocating on this issue?

If someone won’t answer such questions, that’s a red flag.

Answers need to be checked, of course. Look in archives. Consult databases. Read a think tank’s annual report and other disclosure forms to see where it’s been getting its money. The RAD team can help.

We should use tools such as the U.S. Senate Lobbying Disclosure Act Database to find out if an expert is also a registered lobbyist.

This is also critical. We have to keep expanding our contact lists to get away from the usual think tanks and sources. Have you consulted the Source of the Week lately or contributed to it? Please do.

Finding out that a study was paid for by a corporation with an interest in the issue will raise questions about the findings. Learning that a think tank “fellow” is also a paid lobbyist may mean that person doesn’t make it into a story. Whatever the result, it’s basic information that we we’re expected to know and share with our audience.

Finally, there’s this: If an expert’s potential conflict of interest should have been revealed in a story, but wasn’t, that is an error that needs to be acknowledged and corrected.

(“Memmos;” Aug. 15, 2016)