Michael Totten

Not for Sale

Nick Confessore in the Washington Monthly is making a fuss out of the fact that Tech Central Station gets money from corporate sponsors, and that TCS sometimes publishes pieces that favor the positions of those sponsors.
Since I sometimes write for Tech Central Station, let me just say a couple of things.
First of all, no one on this Earth tells me what to think or what to write. That includes Nick Shulz, the editor of Tech Central Station. It also includes Halliburton. None of Dick Cheney’s old pals call me up at home and tell me what to say about Iraq or anything else.
I write for TCS freelance. That means I pitch my own ideas to the magazine.
My pieces get edited and Nick asks me to approve the changes. I don’t always like the changes he makes, so then we discuss it. Sometimes he convinces me that it’s better this way or that, and other times I convince him that his edits weren’t for the best. It’s a give and take, a healthy editing process, and nothing with my name on it gets published without my consent.
Any suggestion, implicit or otherwise, that TCS articles are vetted by its corporate sponsors is silly. None of my articles have had anything to do with any TCS sponsors in the first place, but that’s not true of every piece published there. Daniel Drezner says one of his articles directly contradicts the agenda of a TCS sponsor.
This, I think, is Confessore’s point in a nutshell:

[I]t’s only human nature to put more trust in the arguments of seemingly independent observers than those of paid agents of an interested party. And that’s why a journalist willing to launder the arguments of corporations and trade groups would be so valuable. A given argument, coming from such a journalist, would have more impact than precisely the same case articulated by a corporate lobbyist.

I agree. However, TCS is pretty up front about its biases; its writers are social/economic libertarians and foreign policy hawks. Glenn Reynolds, who also writes for them, agrees (in Daniel Drezner’s comments):

It’s a libertarian policy webzine, so it (mostly) publishes libertarian policy stuff, with occasional pieces by conservatives and liberals.

Tech Central Station does not claim to be “fair and balanced.” They don’t promise “all the news that’s fit to print.”
Nor do I.
I think you should take TCS’s biases, sponsors, and agenda into account, and you ought do the same when listening NPR and Rush Limbaugh. But it isn’t worth making a big deal out of it unless TCS, like Fox News, decides to pretend it’s impartial.
UPDATE: Pejman has a roundup of responses from other Tech Central Station writers. None of us are particularly impressed with Mr. Confessore’s piece, and everyone’s experience seems to be rather like mine.