Friday, February 26, 2010

Shills Among Us? Just Say PShAW

The great thing about the open Internet is that it makes room for amazing sites like, well, this one.

The Huffington Post has been successful because it has opened its platform for public debate on issues that are too often ignored by traditional media.

And with its largely open publishing platform, it's become a home for people seeking an alternative to the mainstream mouthpieces that dominate news and commentary on the networks -- giving us the freedom to publish whenever we want.

It's been truly invaluable in the efforts of people, including me and my colleagues at Free Press, who are waging a fight to preserve Net Neutrality -- the principle that protects the free-flowing Web. It's allowed us to use the Internet to save the Internet, and find a broad audience of readers and followers who aren't hearing crucial media policy debates in the mainstream media.

Because the Huffington Post has been so successful in circumventing traditional media gatekeepers, a lot of people want to get in on it -- including the gatekeepers themselves.


As the fight for Net Neutrality heats up again in Washington, Huffington Post has been infiltrated by a handful of shills attacking the open Internet and disparaging reform efforts by groups like ours.

That's the beauty of the Internet, right? But the problem is that these folks aren't telling the full story. They often neglect to mention in their bios -- alongside their old jobs in government, their innocuous-sounding organizations, or their academic credentials -- that they are being paid by powerful phone and cable companies seeking to kill Net Neutrality.

This technique is classic "astroturf" -- the fake grassroots -- a time-honored but nauseating tradition in Washington, where PR consultants hire themselves out to the highest bidders with a guarantee to generate friendly press for any agenda.

Their overarching goal in the case of the open Internet is to put the genie back in the bottle ... so traditional media gatekeepers can regain control over Web content.

They're now taking advantage of the open nature of the Huffington Post to pass themselves off as impartial observers. And in one case, they appear to have blocked comments from readers who might want to question their motivations. The only way you'd know about their ulterior motives is if you dig deep into their Web sites or watch them closely every day.

You don't have time for that. But I do.

Just say 'PShAW'

So with this post, I'm announcing the formation of the (unofficial) Post Shill and Astroturf Watch, or PShAW for short, which will shine a light on the shills, flacks and other fakers who are trying to pull one over on you.

Here at PShAW, we're all for disagreement and debate. But we also believe in full disclosure. So in that spirit, let me be clear that neither Free Press, PShAW, nor I take a dime from any businesses, media and telecom industry groups, political parties or the government.

The individuals below can't say the same. But, of course, I encourage you to follow the links below and judge for yourself. While you're at it, you might want to visit their posts and add a comment. If they won't publish it, please share it in the comments below.

Also to be clear, PShAW is unoficial -- not a sanctioned Huffington Post project but something bubbling up from below, among readers and contributors who respect the Huffington Post and want to keep it deception free.

Now, onto our first installment:

Bret Swanson: Swanson is so convinced of his argument against Net Neutrality that he appears to have prohibited reader comments on his post. Such bravery comes courtesy of Arts + Labs, an AT&T-funded front group that funds, where Swanson is a "Fellow." Prior to his current gig, Swanson was a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, best known for it's assault on scientific reasoning to discredit Darwin. The loosey goosey logic behind Swanson's shilling on Huffington Post was decimated on Friday by

Michael Turk: Turk is a colleague of Swanson's at the industry funded Turk cut his teeth running "grassroots campaigns" for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which lobbies on behalf of the nation's largest cable companies. He also worked as a technology consultant for Grassroots Enterprise -- a D.C. astroturf shop that lists the cable lobby among its premiere clients. Turk also fails to disclose that he's is a principle in a new PR firm -- called Craft Media Digital -- which lists arch-Net Neutrality foe the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a client.

Patrick Maines: Maines will tell you that he's the president of the Media Institute. He won't tell you, however, that in that capacity he's simply a hired gun for Verizon, AT&T, Viacom, Clear Channel Communications, Time Warner Inc, News Corp and other media giants who make up the Institute's esteemed board of trustees. This explains his efforts on Huffington Post to take down anyone who threatens the nation's media oligarchy ... in this case, insulting the millions of people who support more diverse public media and open Internet.

Robert Atkinson: As president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Atkinson can be counted on to discredit efforts to protect an open Internet and create more market competition. What he's reluctant to say though is that his Institute is funded by telecommunications companies, which probably explains his preference for spending your tax dollars on a massive giveaway to the biggest phone and cable companies -- with zero accountability.

I know the good people at Huffington Post don't mean to pull a fast one on their legions of loyal readers. But they can always use a hand from the community. So the next time one of these travelers crosses your radar on Huffington Post say "PShAW," call them out in their comments (if they let you), and stay tuned to the (unofficial) Post Shill and Astroturf Watch for reports on the latest hack job.

-- Timothy Karr is the campaign director for Free Press, the nation's largest media reform group. Free Press accepts no funding from businesses, industry groups, political parties or the government.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

When Corporate Shills Attack

The Huffington Post just published an attack on Free Press from Patrick Maines, the president of a corporate front group called the Media Institute.

The Institute's sole purpose seems to be to take down anyone who threatens the nation’s media oligarchy ... in this case, cutting down people who support more diverse public media and a more open Internet.

Maines: Keeping us safe from "paleoleftists"
In his Huffington Post bio Maines claims to promote a strong First Amendment. However, he doesn't tell readers that he's a hired gun for Verizon, AT&T, Viacom, Clear Channel Communications, Time Warner Inc, News Corp and other media giants.

When I wrote a reply pointing out the corporate link above, it was deleted. I have re-submitted the comment four times and it has been deleted four times.

Apparently, Maines, who professes to love the First Amendment, thinks free speech is good for only the companies that sign his paycheck, and not people like you and me.

Now he's turned to red-baiting to spread the gospel of mainstream media. This from his article:
Free Press is the absurd name of a paleoleftist organization that sees government influence over the media as a way to advance its larger political views, a point made both explicitly and inadvertently in the published opinions of the group's founder and Maximum Leader, Professor Robert McChesney. Free Press … coins amusingly infantile slogans like "Net neutrality: the First Amendment of the Internet."
Free Press is a regular target of the corporate-funded right on sites like, cable shows like Glenn Beck, and by astroturf groups like Americans for Prosperity.

But it’s particularly disturbing now to see the same types pedaling their junk on Huffington Post.

I have written for Huffington for several years and still do, gratefully. When I write something for Arianna, I do so with the understanding that, while readers may not agree with me, they will know that I come by my opinions honestly, that I am not working some hidden agenda. (Free Press doesn’t accept a dime from industry, industry groups, government or political parties.)

I respect Huffington Post for building a home for many of us who seek an alternative to the mainstream mouthpieces that dominate news and commentary. But they do not, unfortunately, require the kind of disclosure I'd like to see regarding a new crop of contributors who are using the site to push corporate agendas. I'm hoping that will change soon.

It may look from a distance that "independent" groups are calling those of us who believe in media reform and an open Internet "paleoleftists" and socialists, it's just the same fear-mongering groups that attack Progressives all the time -- whether we're advocating health care reform, labor rights or curbs to carbon emissions.

I'm not asking Huffington to block voices with whom I disagree. But there should be more clarity when featuring content that has been bought and paid for by powerful corporations seeking to defeat reform.