Don Marti

Thu 30 Jul 2009 08:50:13 AM PDT

Progress and Freedom Foundation

Lots of people have a lot to say about the Microsoft-Yahoo search announcement. Matt Cutts asked, "Who came out ahead in the Microsoft-Yahoo deal?" and set off a long comment thread. Or see the corresponding thread on any IT site.

Naturally, Microsoft itself wants to get the company point of view out there. And Microsoft's employees and contractors have just as much of a right to free speech as anyone else.

And, if they want to leave their Microsoft relationship out of it when they introduce themselves to media outlets, that's their right, too. If a marketing consultant can get a reporter to quote him as an "analyst," then I suppose an "independent" group can get its own office address and phone number, then pitch Microsoft op-ed pieces from there. PR people typically indentify their clients, but if someone can get away with not doing it, it's the editor's job to check up on him. You read Thank You For Smoking, right? Media operations have to be able to handle misleading flacks and still put out quality news, just as online games have to be able to handle griefers and still run a fun game.

Is the Mainstream Media just lazy about checking who's behind "independent" astroturf groups, or is it deliberate? I'm inclined not to see conspiracies everywhere. Every news site's budget is being cut, and many sites don't even have a copy-edit step, much less fact checking. If someone can turn in copy on time and spell people's names right, they're just what an editor ordered.

But when you run a piece from an intermediary that's working for one of the companies mentioned in the piece, you have to disclose it. dropped the ball here. Instead of putting just "The Progress and Freedom Foundation" at the bottom of an op-ed, you need to mention the business relationship. If Joe's attorney wrote an op-ed on "Get the Government off Joe's Back," you'd mention that he works for Joe. Same for special-interest groups, whether it's one of the ADM pro-sugar-quota groups or from this one.