NPR Fails to Disclose Reporter's Ties to Activist Group

NPR Fails to Disclose Reporter's Ties to Activist Group

This weekend, NPR aimed its taxpayer-subsidized guns at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a relatively unknown membership association of state legislators. ALEC, a non-profit 501 (c)3 founded in the 1970s, gives the left heart palpitations by promoting general conservative policies like lower taxes and deregulation. For its efforts, ALEC has recently come under a coordinated assault by many leftist organizations, especially Common Cause and 9-11 truther Van Jones’ Color of Change. NPR’s report purportedly raised “questions” over ALEC’s tax status and quoted extensively from Common Cause. What listeners didn’t learn, however, was that NPR’s reporter, Peter Overby formerly worked for Common Cause.

That knowledge certainly would have given listeners some valuable context for statements like this:

That’s the argument that the good-government group Common Cause made when it asked the IRS to investigate ALEC last summer.

I’m certain Overby has fond memories of his work at Common Cause, but to simply label them as a “good government group” doesn’t paint an exactly full picture. As its campaigns against the Koch brothers and ALEC show, Common Cause is an increasingly hyper-partisan activist organization working to silence conservative voices. It recently even partnered with the Occupy movement in South Carolina to protest and attempt to shut down a Republican organization. Common Cause doesn’t seem to have any campaigns concerned with undue influence by hedge-fund billionaires, labor unions or crony capitalist corporations. For NPR, “good government” is clearly in the eye of the beholder. 

NPR’s report also relied extensively on the opinion of Marcus Owens, a tax attorney at the firm Caplain & Drysdale. Left out of NPR’s report, however, was the fact that Owens’ firm recently represented Common Cause in litigation against the IRS. Of course, NPR treats Owens as a disinterested expert on non-profit tax law, raising “questions” which Common Cause can then echo later in the story. NPR’s listeners might have benefited from the knowledge that there was a business interest between Owens’ firm and Common Cause. 

And, yes, in full disclosure, I worked for ALEC from 1997-2004. See, Mr. Overby, that wasn’t hard at all.  


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