Organizers of TED, Which Costs Thousands to Attend, Deem Talk on Income Inequality Too "Politically Controversial" to Share

We've long heard complaints that TED is elitist. The annual conference in California costs $7,500 to attend and is nearly impossible to get into for even those who can afford the price tag -- it has been called unofficially invite only.

Still, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who hasn't gone down a TED video rabbit hole at least once. Snobby snobs they may be, but those TED folks sure do know how to pull together some interesting speakers and share their talks online in a compelling way. (You all watched the scientist who studied her own stroke as she was having it right? That shit was cray.)

So I was at least somewhat disappointed, if not terribly surprised, to learn that TED organizers had chosen not to share online what sounds like an important talk on income inequality, after initially expressing enthusiasm for the talk. The National Journal has the story:

TED organizers invited a multimillionaire Seattle venture capitalist named Nick Hanauer – the first nonfamily investor in – to give a speech on March 1 at their TED University conference. Inequality was the topic – specifically, Hanauer’s contention that the middle class, and not wealthy innovators like himself, are America’s true “job creators”....

TED officials told Hanauer initially they were eager to distribute it. “I want to put this talk out into the world!” one of them wrote him in an e-mail in late April. 

TED curator Chris Anderson initially called the piece "one of the most politically controversial talks we've ever run" and said "we need to be really careful when" it gets posted online, but seemed to indicate that the talk wouldgo up on the site. But when Hanauer followed up, TED's tune had changed:

In early May Anderson followed up with Hanauer to inform him he’d decided not to post his talk.

National Journale-mailed Anderson to request an interview about what made a talk on inequality more politically controversial than, for example, contraception or climate change. Anderson, who is traveling abroad, responded with an e-mail statement that appeared to swipe at the popularity of Hanauer’s speech.

"Many of the talks given at the conference or at TED-U are not released,” Anderson wrote. “We only release one a day on and there's a backlog of amazing talks from all over the world. We do not comment publicly on reasons to release or not release [a] talk. It's unfair on the speakers concerned. But we have a general policy to avoid talks that are overtly partisan, and to avoid talks that have received mediocre audience ratings."

Pressed further, Anderson wrote to Hanauer, "Nick, I personally share your disgust at the growth in inequality in the US, and would love to have found a way to give people a clearer mindset on the issue, without stoking a tedious partisan rehash of all the arguments we hear every day in the mainstream media."

As the Journal points out, Anderson's argument that the talk is too "controversial" or "political" seems pretty bunk, given the fact that TED has promoted plenty of controversial and political talks in the past. And if there was ever a time to promote a talk about income inequality, it seems like it would be now, what with the recent surge in conversations about the 1% vs. the 99%. One has to wonder if Anderson was just concerned about offending his rich donors.

For now, you can read a transcript of Hanauer's talk here (via the Journal) and see some of the charts that he used in his presentation here (via Mother Jones).

Update:Raw Story's Stephen C. Webster dug up a TED talk on income inequality that was given last summer -- pre-Occupy movement -- and posted online in the fall.

AlterNet / By Lauren Kelley

Posted at May 17, 2012, 4:46am