One of the ways lazy media outlets cut corners is to rely on think tanks for analyses of complex issues. And that is a great disservice to the public. Those think tanks are seldom, if ever, impartial. They are usually funded by special interests and spin their research to fit the goals of their donors.
I read an article in Salon.com this morning that vividly spotlights the danger of think-tanks’ influence on the media. The piece, by writer David Dayen, documents how researcher Matthew Chingos of the Brookings Institution is being funded by special-interest groups in his crusade against Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposals to reform the government’s student loan program.
Dayen observes that:
Chingos has been one of her most persistent critics on higher education issues, calling her proposals “embarrassingly bad” and “not as progressive as it seems.”
Brookings is supposed to be a “centrist” think tank, which gives it special credibility with the media. But it turns out that Chingos has an ax to grind.
Dayen notes that the supposedly impartial researcher’s web site lists eight grants totaling $1.34 million from four organizations with special reasons to oppose the senator’s proposals. The grants include $500,000 from the Lumina Foundation, which has close ties to Sallie Mae, the corporation that stands to lose the most from Senator Warren’s refinancing bill.
The Senate is voting today on Elizabeth Warren’s bill to lower the interest rate on previously issued student loans. Dayen predicts that “it’s not going to pass.”
We cannot know how much of the blame for this should go to the Chingos crusade. Politicians are swayed by “public opinion” as reflected in the media.
Unfortunately, the media rely on think-tank “experts” like Chingos, unwittingly misleading the public and abetting powerful special interests involved in a sophisticated propaganda war.