Neutrality Regulation and the White Hat

by on June 7, 2006 · 10 comments

Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy wasted no time responding to my recent Heritage piece on neutrality regulation, posting a comment on his blog over the weekend. Well, sort of responding. Actually, the piece didn’t discuss my arguments or facts at all. (Chester promised to do that later.) Instead, he focused on the scoop that Heritage has received money from AT&T and Verizon, which he says should have been disclosed. “Hey, Guess Who Helps Fund the Heritage Foundation?” the blog title breathlessly asks.

Hey, guess how Chester found this out? In the Heritage annual report, of course. Where it was disclosed. Along with the names of hundreds of other donors. Other donors that include pro-neutrality regulation Microsoft, as well as Verizon and AT&T. The report also discloses that only about five percent of our revenue comes from corporations of any kind. The rest comes from individuals and foundations.

Yet all of this is skipped over by Chester. There’s a tactical advantage to this. There are times that attacking your opponent’s motives is an attractive alternative to substantive arguments. But I won’t say that he wrote for merely tactical reasons. While not reciprocated, I’ll assume he actually believes what he writes.

Yet this may be the more disturbing prospect. His ad hominem approach represents a nice black-and-white picture of the policy world, one where pro-regulation consumer advocates fight for what they believe is right, and everyone else has somehow been paid off. That view is all too common among many on the left. These erstwhile trust-busters relish their own perceived monopoly on white hats, and won’t suffer competition.


For the same reason, the left insists on painting the whole net neutrality debate as a David-vs.-Goliath struggle, big corporations against “rag tag band” of regulation supporters. (See my earlier posts here and here.) Never mind that big corporations are on both sides–in fact the market cap of the pro-regulation firms is larger than the anti-regulation lineup. That just confuses an otherwise neat story.

Sometimes the argument is taken to ridiculous lengths. One blog, in a piece entitled “The Economics of Morality,” recently posted information on salaries at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (where I used to work), pondering whether that was enough money to cause someone to lie for a living. It apparently is beyond imagining that we actually believe in what we do, just as the left believes in what they do (or that we may be right, which is a whole other question).

Of course, this isn’t to say that there aren’t people out there who advocate for money, rather than principle. But they can be found on both sides of policy debates–no side has a corner on purity.

It is also true that not all those on the left share this cardboard view of the world. But far too many do. The public policy debate is poorer for it. So, too, is the left itself, which increasingly finds itself holding a large–but empty–white hat.

  • NM

    Very well said!

  • http://www.blindmindseye.com MikeT

    When all else fails, try to hit your opponent below the belt…

  • NM

    Very well said!

  • http://www.blindmindseye.com MikeT

    When all else fails, try to hit your opponent below the belt…

  • enigma_foundry

    “Yet this may be the more disturbing prospect. His ad hominem approach represents a nice black-and-white picture of the policy world…”

    No his attack is not really ad hominem, as he appears to be saying that the source of your funding has had an influence on your conclusions.

    That is clear appeal to cause and effect relationship.

    Why not address this criticism instead of mis-stating the arguments of your critics?

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    “Yet this may be the more disturbing prospect. His ad hominem approach represents a nice black-and-white picture of the policy world…”

    No his attack is not really ad hominem, as he appears to be saying that the source of your funding has had an influence on your conclusions.

    That is clear appeal to cause and effect relationship.

    Why not address this criticism instead of mis-stating the arguments of your critics?

  • James Gattuso

    I did:
    “Hey, guess how Chester found this out? In the Heritage annual report, of course. Where it was disclosed. Along with the names of hundreds of other donors. Other donors that include pro-neutrality regulation Microsoft, as well as Verizon and AT&T. The report also discloses that only about five percent of our revenue comes from corporations of any kind. The rest comes from individuals and foundations”.

  • James Gattuso

    I did:
    “Hey, guess how Chester found this out? In the Heritage annual report, of course. Where it was disclosed. Along with the names of hundreds of other donors. Other donors that include pro-neutrality regulation Microsoft, as well as Verizon and AT&T.; The report also discloses that only about five percent of our revenue comes from corporations of any kind. The rest comes from individuals and foundations”.

  • http://www.bastish.net Kevin

    (bastish.net author here)

    It apparently is beyond imagining that we actually believe in what we do, just as the left believes in what they do (or that we may be right, which is a whole other question).

    Actually, my first reaction when I see someone saying something I don’t agree with is to believe that they believe it. I usually always assume people are doing what they believe is right, even if it is different from what I believe. As I mentioned in my post, I have no problem with them arguing the legality of making CO2 a pollutant – whether it is because they truly believe that increasing CO2 in the atmosphere is a good thing, or even if it is just because they are lawyers who may not believe, but are doing their job to uphold the rule of law – a very noble thing indeed…. And I can’t even argue because I am not a legal expert.

    When I wonder out loud how much it costs to make an already rich man lie, I am referring not to promoting their beliefe that CO2 increase is good, rather, I am referring to their deliberate misquoting and mis citing of studies that, in fact, disagree with their belief.

    The only other conclusion I was able to come up with, besides that they are deliberately misleading (which I refer to as a “lie”), is that did not even read the reports they cited in the ads, which is completely incompetent from a professional standpoint (not to mention irresponsible). I am not sure which is worse.

    Granted, I sometimes work for a “liberal” company, working closely with big business to help them figure out how to comply with new regulations, and how to change their processes to fit what we consider, based on the vast majority of scientific evidence, to be physical limitations of our global eco-system. We do it so they these big companies can make a lot more money too. But one thing we wont do is to *deliberately* leave out or misrepresent reputable information that contradicts what we are telling our client. Indeed, clients often get annoyed when I wont give a definite “yes” or “no” answer – opting to show them valid arguments on both sides instead.

    Sure, sometimes mistakes happen and we obviously can’t read every single report and study before consulting with the client, but another thing we won’t do is to base an argument on the just the title of a report, or one line taken out of context without even having read it – something that, if discovered, could very well lead to our loosing the clients trust and, ultimately, the account.

  • http://www.bastish.net Kevin

    (bastish.net author here)

    It apparently is beyond imagining that we actually believe in what we do, just as the left believes in what they do (or that we may be right, which is a whole other question).

    Actually, my first reaction when I see someone saying something I don’t agree with is to believe that they believe it. I usually always assume people are doing what they believe is right, even if it is different from what I believe. As I mentioned in my post, I have no problem with them arguing the legality of making CO2 a pollutant – whether it is because they truly believe that increasing CO2 in the atmosphere is a good thing, or even if it is just because they are lawyers who may not believe, but are doing their job to uphold the rule of law – a very noble thing indeed…. And I can’t even argue because I am not a legal expert.

    When I wonder out loud how much it costs to make an already rich man lie, I am referring not to promoting their beliefe that CO2 increase is good, rather, I am referring to their deliberate misquoting and mis citing of studies that, in fact, disagree with their belief.

    The only other conclusion I was able to come up with, besides that they are deliberately misleading (which I refer to as a “lie”), is that did not even read the reports they cited in the ads, which is completely incompetent from a professional standpoint (not to mention irresponsible). I am not sure which is worse.

    Granted, I sometimes work for a “liberal” company, working closely with big business to help them figure out how to comply with new regulations, and how to change their processes to fit what we consider, based on the vast majority of scientific evidence, to be physical limitations of our global eco-system. We do it so they these big companies can make a lot more money too. But one thing we wont do is to *deliberately* leave out or misrepresent reputable information that contradicts what we are telling our client. Indeed, clients often get annoyed when I wont give a definite “yes” or “no” answer – opting to show them valid arguments on both sides instead.

    Sure, sometimes mistakes happen and we obviously can’t read every single report and study before consulting with the client, but another thing we won’t do is to base an argument on the just the title of a report, or one line taken out of context without even having read it – something that, if discovered, could very well lead to our loosing the clients trust and, ultimately, the account.

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