Has NPR's Adam Davidson Betrayed His Listeners? Serious Conflict of Interest Issues Exposed
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Editor's Note: The following article from Yasha Levine and Mark Ames' SHAME Project has caught the attention of the New York Observer's Foster Kamer, who suggests that the authors have made a "compelling case" that the NPR programming Adam Davidson is associated with is "inherently conflicted." What are the charges? Kamer summarizes:
First, that a notoriously hostile 2009 Planet Money interview between Davidson and Elizabeth Warren—the special adviser to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—was ethically tainted by Planet Money‘s financial arrangements with “the sole sponsor underwriting Davidson’s Planet Money show and his salary.” Levine and Ames argue that the sponsor in question—a financial services conglomerate—lobbied against the creation of the CFPB before it was created (and around the time of the interview), which is evidence of an insidious conflict of interest. Furthermore, they allege that Davidson is accepting speaking fees from the industry he covers for both NPR and The New York Times Magazine, something largely viewed as an unsavory, questionable practice by most journalists (and journalism institutions, which usually have guidelines against that sort of thing).
Adam Davidson is the co-creator and host of the popular economic news radio program Planet Money. On air, Davidson plays the role of an earnest, brainy reporter who’s doing his best to make sense of the complicated, jargon-filled world of finance to report business news in a way that NPR listeners can understand. However, behind the dweeby, faux-naive facade Adam Davidson presents to his listeners, is a shrewd propagandist with a long, consistent history of shilling for powerful and destructive interests—and failing to disclose his financial ties to the companies and industries he reports on.
Over the years, Davidson has boosted for the Iraq War and whitewashed the occupation of Iraq, praised sweatshop labor and "experimenting on the poor," attacked the idea of regulating Wall Street, parroted libertarian propaganda about the government’s inability to directly create jobs, argued for "squeezing the middle class," and shamelessly fawned over Wall Street for allegedly blessing Americans with "just about anything that makes you happy." (Read Adam Davidson's full S.H.A.M.E. profile.)
Adam Davidson gained national media recognition as an on-air personality in 2008, after co-producing an episode for This American Life called "The Giant Pool of Money" about the implosion of subprime lending. Although Davidson's segment was praised for making the murky world of finance easier to understand, his framing of the subprime housing debacle served another purpose: It let Wall Street off the hook for its role in rampant criminal mortgage fraud and predatory lending. Among the show's fans was Treasury Secretary and former New York Federal Reserve Bank chief Timothy Geithner: "Yeah, they did a good job."
As a piece of journalism, Davidson's report on the subprime fraud was a failure bordering on journalistic malpractice. By absolving the role of rampant predatory criminality and spreading blame in a grand false equivalency, Davidson provided a narrative frame that comforted the American Establishment at a time when it badly needed comforting, and was duly rewarded for his services. The mainstream media joined Timothy Geithner in lavishing praise on Davidson's subprime fraud whitewash, and awarded him and his partner with the prestigious "Peabody Award" while New York University's Journalism Institute named the segment one of the "Top Ten Works of Journalism of the Decade." Thanks to the broad acceptance and praise of Davidson's whitewash, he was given his own show, which launched just as the entire financial system began to meltdown.
The new show, called Planet Money, was a partnership between NPR and Chicago Public Media's This American Life, and was molded on Davidson’s successful subprime episode. Not surprisingly, Planet Money was compromised almost from the very start.