Hack tank

One of the annoying things about think tanks is that some have genuine credibility and others are nothing but mendacious arms of the Republican party, but journalists tend to treat them all pretty much the same.  Just attaching a “left-leaning” to the intellectually credible Brookings Institution and “right-leaning” to the collection of books and hacks that justify the Republican party all times that is The Heritage Foundation.  Mark Kleiman does a great job at getting at this while eviscerating Heritage’s “research” on the legalization of marijuana:

With that as a warm-up, the Heritage folks invent an entirely new brand of pharmacology, in which cannabis is hideously dangerous but alcohol quite safe. (The trick is to compare data on moderate drinking with data on heavy cannabis smoking, and to simply ignore the facts about alcohol-related violence.)

What’s really scary is that the people running Heritage think they can produce this kind of crap and get away with it. It wouldn’t have been hard to run a draft report past any of a dozen actual experts hostile to cannabis legalization and have them spot the howlers. In the extreme, Heritage might have even gotten an expert to write the report in the first place.

What’s even scarier is that no doubt the executives at Heritage are basically correct: for an outfit that occupies the Heritage there’s simply no price to be paid for making sh*t up. People who look to Heritage for “research” have already opted for ideological reliability over quality and accuracy, and journalists either really can’t tell the difference between a real policy research outfit like RAND and a propaganda mill like Heritage or don’t think it would be “objective” to distinguish attempts to find the truth from efforts to fit arguments to pre-determined conclusions.

Even within the world of advocacy groups, there are differences in quality. I can’t imagine a comparable product coming out of, for example, the Center for American Progress. But how much does CAP benefit from the difference, given that journalists mostly won’t mention it, even if they perceive it?

I think this results from the misguided journalistic mantra to be balanced at all costs.  In truth, treating propaganda from Heritage the same as real research from Brookings only lets the liars win (as does much of he said, she said journalism).

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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