Journalists have to cope with a lot: dwindling budgets, shrinking salaries, the defenestration of fact checking, agenda-driven reports from think tanks, corporate "crisis" teams deliberately making their lives harder -- no problem. The need for a bullshit filter is right there in the job description, just under "cool hat." But some writers end up bypassing their own filter for political point-scoring or cash. Even lauded New York Times best-seller Malcolm Gladwell got his start suckling at the teat of big business.
Andrew H. Walker / Getty
Aaaand now you'll be imagining that for the rest of the day.
The Fourth Estate's answer to Michael Jordan started out his career shilling for Big Tobacco. His magnum opus was a warning that any decrease in American smoking habits might "put serious strain on the nation's Social Security and Medicare programs." Gladwell was such a hit with Big Tobacco in the '90s that Phillip Morris even included him on a list of media assets. This isn't to say that the man hasn't written some fine books, but if you're looking for someone who places pride in objectivity, Gladwell probably isn't your man.
Blurring the lines between ad content, PR, and actual reporting is appealing to corporations, lobbyists, and politicians because it allows them to slip "key messages" through alongside actual news. Like when the Atlantic let the Church of Scientology run an ad cleverly disguised as an editorial article. That pissed a lot of people off, but only because the Internet has a raging hate-on for Scientology.
Adam Gault/Photodisc/Getty Images
Let he who has not taken stacks of money for unsavory things cast the first stone.
You probably didn't hear much of an uproar about this Huffington Post column by Tom Squitieri, defending the government of Bahrain for violently cracking down on protesters. There's got to be two sides to every issue, right? And HuffPo listed ol' Tom as an expert on the region, as well as a "journalist." Only Squitieri hasn't been a journalist since 2005, when he resigned from USA Today for plagiarism. He's also an employee of Qorvis, a public relations firm that rehabilitates the images of dictatorships ... including Bahrain. Somehow, no one looked into that.
It's not exactly a case of a corporation leveraging its ad dollars in an immoral way, but it's definitely a case of that line between paid advocacy and journalism being erased.
And now, more than ever, we need that line.
MTM is still working in journalism today. Robert Evans used to be a journalist, but now he writes articles like this for Cracked. If you'd like to tell him a story, he can be reached here.
Always on the go but can't get enough of Cracked? We have an Android app and iOS reader for you to pick from so you never miss another article.
Related Reading: Cracked takes a lot of pride in giving our readers the inside scoop on very different lives. Click here to learn the realities of life in a mental institution. Or click here, for a look at how different life can be with a terminal illness. We've also talked with a submarine technician and a legal prostitute. So whatever you're interested in, Cracked has the details.