HuffPo’s Missing Gephardt Disclosure

Sebastian Jones, an editor at the liberal Washington Monthly, has shot a sharp dart at The Huffington Post for publishing an op-ed by former Missouri congressman Dick Gephardt that was missing a key disclosure: Gephardt, who was attacking the president’s health care reform bill, is, in Jones’s words, “a lobbyist representing the very corporate interests gunning to kill the program.”

In the piece, Gephardt said he was concerned the program in question, an important Medicare cost-cutting panel called the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), was “unelected” and “unaccountable” and would “have devastating consequences for the seniors and disabled Americans who are Medicare’s beneficiaries.” These arguments are cut directly from the talking points of industry groups that pay Gephardt—like PhRMA, which is now engaged in a full-throated campaign to kill IPAB.

Jones points out that HuffPo originally ran the piece with “the minimal (and mostly meaningless) disclosure that he is ‘CEO of Gephardt Government Affairs,’” and he is right to say that this particular line is very weak sauce indeed. A cursory glance at Gephardt Government Affairs’ highlighted client list, which HuffPo now links to, is enough to at least raise an eyebrow. There’s PhRMA, as Jones notes, and that name third from the bottom of the thirty-four-member list is United Health Group, which in 2009 lobbied hard against the president’s health care reform bill. TPM’s Brian Buetler reported then that UHG’s employee hotline was encouraging callers to attend Tea Party rallies and the group was handing its employees anti-health reform talking points. And that’s just what I found in two minutes on Google.

HuffPo has updated the post with a fuller disclosure, as Jones further explains.

After I contacted the Huffington Post yesterday, Gephardt’s op-ed was amended with an editor’s note saying he “has clients in the healthcare industry.” A link was also provided to his firm’s website, where “highlighted” clients are listed. Sorry guys, but that’s just not nearly good enough. Your readers deserve to know that Gephardt is a lobbyist and that he is paid to lobby against the specific issue he is writing about. Giving people a link to a site that lists PhRMA as a client does not in any way explain that PhRMA is a leading opponent of IPAB, and that we are in the midst of a highly organized campaign by groups like PhRMA to repeal IPAB.

It’s a fair point. If HuffPo wants to be more than just a publisher of celebrity and big name press releases, full and tough disclosures for those utilizing its growing platform is essential.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor. Tags: , , , ,