Should op-ed writers be forced to tell readers if they’re taking money in return for supporting a cause or interest? The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Iain Murray says no.
In an article for the American Spectator, Iain Murray argues that readers should focus on the quality of a opinion writer’s argument rather than worrying about who’s paying them and why. According to Murray, dismissing an argument because it’s paid for is an example of the ad hominem fallacy not a valid argument:
If a writer does not disclose his income source, he is untrustworthy for not being transparent. If he does disclose his income source, he is a paid shill. Yet neither formulation speaks to the actual arguments.
Murray’s solution to this dilemma is to protect readers from their own irrationality and prejudice. So if an oil company is paying an opinion writer to tell readers that climate change is a beat-up disclosing this will only confuse readers. It plays into the hands of left wingers who tell a gullible public that researchers at privately funded think tanks are less trustworthy than university academics.
Reason magazine’s Cathy Young disagrees. In a piece for the Boston Globe she writes "Undisclosed financial interest in the slant of an article compromises a writer’s intellectual honesty and hence his or her credibility."