Who is paying for that little trip you took to Iraq/Israel/Washington?

Following this week’s controversy over Sydney Morning Herald journalist Peter Hartcher taking a free trip to Israel and returning to Australia with wonderful tales of Zionist adventure, Foreign Policy’s Stephen Walt argues that transparency in think-tanks and public figures is key. Where is the money coming from of major columnists and journalists?

We are drowning in information and opinion, much of it claiming to be objective and authoritative when it may in fact be inspired and funded by moneyed special interests eager to sell the public a story that advances their particular objectives. Most “think tanks” in Washington portray themselves as objective, quasi-scholarly institutions (indeed, they increasingly give researchers endowed chairs and other quasi-academic titles), but unlike most universities, most think tanks remain heavily dependent on “soft money” and are bound to be especially sensitive to what potential donors might be thinking. And some of them aren’t really scholarly at all; they are just public relations operations or “letterhead organizations” seeking to mold public opinion and push the policy process in a particular direction. But unless you know who’s paying for it, it’s hard to decide who’s giving you an honest opinion and who is just shilling for some powerful interest group.

Can we tame this beast without infringing on free speech?

Here’s a suggestion: let’s start by asking participants in the war of ideas to provide a lot more information about their financial dealings.

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