Since I spend a lot of time talking to people who want to write op-ed columns, one of the first things I tell them is they have to figure out how they have a connection to the subject they want to write about. Basically, why should anyone want to read what you write? What makes you an “expert” on the subject?
Now when I say “expert” I don’t necessarily mean that you work at a think tank and write policy papers all day on the subject (although that would be great). But if you are writing about immigration, the economy, the presidential election, whatever, you have to somehow find a way to tie yourself to the subject matter. For example, in this piece, a New York woman is writing that like Sarah Palin, she’s also a “hockey mom.” She writes that she shares a lot of the same background as Gov. Palin. But she splits with her on position on reproductive rights. Her “expertise” is that she is also a hockey mom commenting on another hockey mom.
But Salon pointed to a great example of the Los Angeles Times picking up an op-ed by David Blankenhorn whose only buy-in is that the author is a “liberal” against gay marriage. Except that, as Salon points out. He’s probably not really a liberal.
The thing about political leanings is it’s a lot like faith. You can’t prove someone isn’t a “Christian” if they claim they are, even if you point out all the unchristian things they do.
The vehicle Blankenhorn uses for espousing his opinions on marriage and family values is a think tank he calls the Institute for American Values, of which he is president. In accordance with its status as an untaxed entity, IAV must file a Form 990 financial report annually with the IRS. These filings are available to the public, and you can learn a lot from them. Here is what public records tell us about IAV:
During the 15 years preceding 2006, IAV received nearly $4.5 million in funding from a coterie of ultra-conservative Republican foundations, including the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Scaife Family Foundation, and the Randolph Foundation. These foundations supply funds for a network of right-wing Republican think tanks that promote a variety of causes such as the elimination of gay marriage, abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research; prayer in public schools; creationism and deregulatory free-market economics.
It makes perfect sense that the opinion editor of the LA Times took Blankenhorn at face-value when he sends in an op-ed saying “I’m a liberal.” But in a case like this, and read the op-ed yourself, it doesn’t make much of a point if it’s not backed by someone who has a solid-background in proven liberal beliefs. The argument doesn’t exist really if its not presented as coming from someone who normally agrees with liberal positions.
I think this is a case of “fool me once.” I’d like to think the LA Times isn’t going to get fooled again just by someone who claims to be an outlier. But I suspect they are more susceptible to this type of ruse because they want to think of themselves as “not liberal media.”