Old columns, plagiarism, and Astroturf from a Koch group
Reading the Sunday opinion section
You’re still reading outdated opinions
Last Sunday I wrote a post about how badly outdated the columns and opinion pieces were in that day’s Wheeling News-Register opinion section: a date check of when the columns first appeared revealed that half of the columns were at least a week old. Out of curiosity, I examined today’s News-Register and not surprisingly, the description still applies -- over half the columns are at least a week old. And as with last Sunday’s opinion section, the most recent column was first printed on Wednesday. Yeah, you’re still reading outdated opinions.
Back when I was gainfully employed, plagiarism meant “the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own” as the Google search page defines it. I hope the definition is still true although a column in today’s opinion section made me wonder if that definition means anything to the News-Register. In the process of looking for the original date of publication for the columns that appeared in today’s opinion section, I googled with quotation marks a sentence from the column by Gil White, who is a former WV legislator and current state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. Like Representative Arnstead’s column last week, I wanted to see when and where it was originally published. Instead of an earlier print date for White’s column, there were only three results on the page: White’s column in this morning’s News-Register, a November 23 column by Dawn Starns in the Shreveport Times, and a November 17 opinion piece by Dan Murray in the Topeka Capital Journal. In checking each of the results, I found them to be word-for-word-the-same from beginning to end. Interesting.
What was the connection? Here is what each paper tells us about its contributor:
- Dawn Starns is the Louisiana state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.
- Dan Murray is the Kansas state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.
- Gil White is state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.
My conclusion: all three opinions were written by the NFIB. Although they are given credit, White, Starnes, and Murray had nothing to do with writing the piece; their name was added to make it appear that the column had a local connection. (See astroturfing, below.) If I’m right, all three are plagiarists by any definition of that word. (Of course, I could be wrong.)
One other note: as this example suggests, plagiarism isn’t just found in academia. It doesn’t get much press (for obvious reasons), but it’s a major problem in journalism. In this case, I don’t think the News-Register cared and if they did, they didn’t bother to check – the column argues for tax cuts and that’s all that matters.
You’ve been astroturfed!
If you think the National Federation of Independent Business is the voice of the small business person, you’ve been fooled by the Kochs who love to give friendly names to the groups which serve their best interests. (Another Koch example: Americans for Prosperity.) Using fake grassroots organizations is sometimes referred to as “astroturfing” and the Kochs are especially good at it. For example here’s Sourcewatch on NFIB:
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) is a powerhouse lobbying group (reporting $100 million in revenue in 2013) that purports to represent small businesses, emphasizing the claim that they are "NOT a voice for big business." However, the group has been shown to lobby on issues that favor large corporate interests and run counter to the interests of small businesses. News reports have also found that NFIB, which tells the IRS it is a "non-partisan" service organization, engages in partisan politics, and receives millions in hidden contributions.
Hidden contributions? From whom? CNN explained back in 2013:
The National Federation of Independent Business is one of the most influential small-business advocacy groups in the country. They battle against government regulation, higher taxes and, perhaps most famously, Obamacare. And they do it all as the self-described "voice of small business."
But it turns out that the champions of Main Street America got more money last year from a group backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch than any other single source.
NFIB and its affiliated groups received $2.5 million from Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a conservative advocacy group with deep ties to the Koch empire. Of the five men that sit on the group's board, four are current or former employees of Koch companies and one is a friend of Charles Koch's.
Yes, this is a Koch organization caring as much about small businesses as the News-Register cares about plagiarism.