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Has NPR's Adam Davidson Betrayed His Listeners? Serious Conflict of Interest Issues Exposed

Davidson is a shrewd propagandist with a long, consistent history of shilling for powerful interests—and failing to disclose his financial ties to the companies he reports on.

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DAVIDSON: The [sputters]--

ELIZABETH WARREN: Who says a bank a bank is going to survive -- Who is not worried about the fact that the Bank of America's default rate has now bumped over 10%? That's at least the latest data I saw. So the idea that we're going to somehow fix the banks and then next year or next decade we're going to start worrying about the American family just doesn't [Davidson talking over] make any sense.

DAVIDSON: The American families are not -- These issues of crucial, the essential need for credit intermediation are as close to accepted principles among every serious thinker on this topic. The view that the American family, that you hold very powerfully, is fully under assault and that there is -- and we can get into that -- that is not accepted broad wisdom. I talk to a lot a lot a lot of left, right, center, neutral economists [and] you are the only person I've talked to in a year of covering this crisis who has a view that we have two equally acute crises: a financial crisis and a household debt crisis that is equally acute in the same kind of way. I literally don't know who else I can talk to support that view. I literally don't know anyone other than you who has that view, and you are the person [snicker] who went to Congress to oversee it and you are presenting a very, very narrow view to the American people.

The Columbia Journalism Review described the  Planet Money interview as a "disaster" and  "really cringeworthy stuff from Davidson," who was so rude and unprofessional that NPR's Ombudsman was forced to  issue a public apology for his behavior. Davidson's excuse: he had been traveling for a NPR fundraiser and was "very, very tired."

What Adam Davidson did not disclose to the public was that at the same time he was smearing Elizabeth Warren and attacking legislation that would protect consumers against the sort of bank fraud that has devastated millions of Americans, Ally Bank, the sole sponsor underwriting Davidson's  Planet Money show and his salary, was simultaneously  spending hundreds of thousands lobbying against the  Financial the Consumer Protection Agency Act of 2009.

Evidence: Here's just one of GMAC's lobbying disclosure forms mentioning the Consumer Financial Protection Agency Act of 2009

Ally Bank is not the only financial company funding Adam Davidson’s career, and filling up his bank accounts.

On top of Ally Bank's exclusive sponsorship of  Planet Money, Davidson earns  lucrative speaking fees from banks and financial companies, including J.P. Morgan, Well Fargo, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs—the same companies he covers as a journalist. Davidson is frequently the only journalist/reporter booked to speak at these events; other speakers usually work in finance.

Davidson has yet to disclose his corporate clients and how much they pay him, but here is a partial list of Davidson's speaking gigs from the last two years compiled from various publicly available sources:

  • In April 2011, Davidson was the headlining speaker at the 9th Annual "Women's World Banking" Microfinance and the Capital Markets Conference. The conference was hosted by J.P. Morgan, but the organization itself is funded by the world's biggest banks and corporations, including BP, Morgan Stanley, Pfizer, Barclays Capital, VISA, ExxonMobil—just to name a few.
  • In 2011, Davidson spoke at another microfinance conference, this once was also funded by Morgan Stanley, Citi, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank and CapitalOne.
  • In 2012, Davidson spoke at the 27th Annual Conference for the Treasury & Finance Professional. Sponsors of the event included Bank of America, BlackRock, BNY Mellon, Bloomberg, Citibank, Findelity Investments, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Well Fargo and about a dozen of the most powerful financial the largest financial companies in the world.

These speaking fees are a huge unaddressed problem in news media and academia. As explained by Charles Ferguson, director of  Inside Job and author of  Predator Nation, the problem with speaking fees is that they are “sometimes used to launder or disguise payments . . . for lobbying and policy advocacy.” That is why, for example, Obama's former economy czar Larry Summers was  roundly criticized for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees in 2008 from the  same banks he was bailing out in 2009.

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