Mercatus Update: Academic Freedom
by Chris Bowers, Wed Jan 26, 2005 at 09:25:43 AM EST
So far, I have received some emails on the subject, including a message from a Mercatus Center prof who vigorously protested to being classified as part of the Republican Noise Machine. A colleague of mine has contacted some staffers who were angry at our attempts to stifle "academic freedom," or something to that effect. And, quite clearly, Roemer staffers have not appreciated the characterization of the Mercatus Center I have put forth.
In elliptical fashion, I would like to deal with all of these protests by first addressing the notion of "academic freedom" as it relates to Mercatus.
According to its highly trafficked Web site, Heritage has eight employees doing p.r. work full-time, runs a 365-day-per-year, twenty-four-hour-per-day media hot line, disseminates to the pres a weekly "hot sheet," has its own TV and radio studios in its Capitol Hill offices, and syndicates op-eds through the Knight-Ridder wire service. When Heritage is mentioned in a major publication like the Washington Post, it blast-faces and e-mails the piece to hundreds of smaller newspapers, op-ed editors, syndicated columnists, and talk show producers. An examination of the Web site in spring 2003 showed that Heritage was gaining about forty mentions in just the major print press alone per week. (58)And this influence shows in its domination of the news:The center-right slant in media citations of think tanks continued in 2002, with conservative groups receiving 47 percent of last year's citations, centrists 41 percent and progressives 12 percent--the least representation for the left since 1998.Its getting worse:Even as media reliance on think tanks increased in 2003, the slant in coverage toward conservative groups and away from progressives held steady. While mainstream media citations of the top 25 think tanks increased 13 percent from 2002 to 2003, right-leaning institutions received 47 percent of last year's citations, with centrists getting 39 percent and 13 percent going to groups that leaned to the left.(...)
Conservative think tanks, buoyed by their appearances on cable news outlets such as Fox News and MSNBC, received 52 percent of electronic citations. Centrists garnered 37 percent of citations in the electronic media, while progressives received only 11 percent of such mentions.This all came from huge donors, and is well coordinated (again quoting from Brock): In addition to the Olin and Coors family foundations, run by two brothers who own a huge oil and natural gas firm, Kock Industries, founded by their father, Fred Koch, a charter member of the John Birch society.... The Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, founded by automotive parts manufacturer Harry Bradley, also an active member of the John Birch Society; and Richard Mellon Scaife, heir to the Mellon banking and oil fortune and a major Goldwater and Nixon supporter.... Along with the Smith Richardson Foundation, funded by the Vicks VapoRub empire, Olin, Bradley, and Scaife are known with the movement as the "Four Sisters."
Run by neocon ideologues, these foundations provide the crucial seed money, and sustained general operating funds, that are critical to successful institution building. Their multimillions are then matched by donations from top corporate foundations, including the Amoco and Alcoa foundations, the JM Foundation, the Rockwell International Corporation Trusts, and the Ford Motor Company Fund. The funding strategies of the donors are coordinated by a directorate of top conservative leaders who sit on the Philanthropy Roundtable, while the overall agenda of the movement is loosely set by shadowy organizations of top conservative activists and Far Right politicians, such as the Council for National Policy (a secretive organization of leaders with a religious Right bent) and the Library Court group0 (named after a small street in the nation's capital and convened biweekly by Paul Weyrich).
Another important coordinating function is performed by conservative activist and New Gingrich protégé Grover Norquist, president of an anti-tax group, Americans for Tax Reform. (79)And these donors are exactly the same donors who fund the Mercatus Center. Exactly the same.
Now, I know that Democratic congressional staffers are not idiots who will be easily brainwashed by right-wing ideology. Further, since Mercatus is not a think tank in the pure sense of the term (it is nominally affiliated with an actual academic institution, George Mason University), it is not surprising that not everyone who works with the Mercatus Center is a right-wing ideologue of the sort that would be found at, say, Heritage. However, this does not change the structural underpinnings of Mercatus as an institution, which is nearly identical to the structural underpinnings of all other right wing think tanks. And I think we can all agree that institutions have functions and power that easily supercede the disparate intentions of their individual members.
If someone wishes to disagree with my characterization of the Mercatus Center, fine. However, when they do so, they need to answer
- If the Mercatus Center is not at least intended to be part of the Republican Noise Machine, why is the funding of the Mercatus Center identical to the funding of virtually every right-wing think tank?
- If the Mercatus Center is not achieving its desired function as a part of the Republican Noise Machine, then why do these same donors continue to provide tremendous financial support to it?
- If the Mercatus Center is not trying to influence national policy in favor of conservatism, then what is it doing inviting Democratic congressional staffers to attend a lavish retreat that includes seminars whose very titles contain conservative talking points on topics such as Social Security?
I have said it before, and I will say it again. If you are a Democratic congressional staffer, do not attend the Mercatus retreat. If you have already reserved a place, cancel it. If you are not going, tell other staffers why. If you are going, I promise that you will be hearing from the netroots on this matter, and not just between now and February 5th. Stay away from the Republican Noise Machine. Take the red pill. Talk to the grassroots, not to conservative influence peddlers.