A couple of weeks ago, blogger Steve M. at Balloon Juice and No More Mister Nice Blog caught NPR and NBC talking to the same small businessman, Joe Olivo, about how Obama’s health care law is keeping him from hiring for his printing business. Turns out Olivo’s quite the active member of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the big right-wing, pro-corporate lobbying group that was the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case against Obamacare, which is called National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius. His NFIB connections, needless to say, weren’t disclosed by either broadcast. And Steve M. caught NPR going back to the well a week later, with yet another anti-Obamacare Olivo interview with no disclosure of his lobbying ties.
This is hardly the first time this has happened with Olivo.
Two weeks ago, Olivo went to the friendly turf of Fox Business and appeared on “Stossel” alongside an NFIB lawyer, coincidentally enough (NPR also talked to the NFIB in one of the Olivo pieces). Olivo’s NFIB connection wasn’t mentioned. In the last year he’s been quoted in the AP (four times), Fox News, the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Financial Times happened upon him last September to provide an anti-Obama quote after the president’s jobs speech.
Olivo was also on NPR’s “All Things Considered” back in 2009 talking anti-Obamacare. Also on the segment: An NFIB lobbyist. And he has testified before the New Jersey Assembly opposing an increase in the state minimum wage and before Congress against the health-care reform plan.
Is it really so hard to find small manufacturing businesses to talk to? No. It’s a bad brew of deadline pressures mixed with “balance” pressures.
Here’s how you should assume this works, because it’s how it very often does: A journalist is on deadline on a story and needs an anecdote to make it feel “real” with some color—preferably someone who will add balance and/or support the journalist’s thesis. A speed-dialed call is made to industry flacks to supply a quotable small-business person and, voilà!
That’s the quick-and-easy way, which is how readers get political activists presented misleadingly as random businessmen.
The other way would be to have an economics reporter with a well-developed list of manufacturers and small business people who might be able to offer some non-scripted views.
It’s called sourcing. Barring that, there’s the Internets.