Since becoming President of Minnesota’s public policy organization, Center of the American Experiment, at the beginning of 2016, I have gotten a new perspective on media bias and ineptitude. I have always thought those problems were bad. Now I think they are worse. Take a look at the email that I received this morning from Jessica Glenza, a reporter for the Guardian US. Its subject is an “URGENT Press Inquiry.” Ms. Glenza’s email drips with arrogance, ignorance and prejudice:
My name is Jessica Glenza. I am a health reporter for the Guardian US, based in New York.
I am writing because the Guardian is conducting a wide-scale investigation on the tobacco policy positions of Atlas Network and associated thinktanks. This thinktank was identified by Atlas Network as an affiliate, and identified by The Guardian as taking positions on tobacco policies.
There is a significant body of evidence which demonstrates the following:
* Smoking kills more than 7 million people each year, according to the World Health Organization. That total is expected to rise to 8 million by 2030, without action to control tobacco use, the WHO has said.
* Tobacco taxation is “widely recognized as the most effective way to reduce smoking rates”, according to the National Health Service. However, the policy is often ineffective, NHS said, because the approach is “open to industry circumvention”. This view is shared by the World Health Organization, World Bank and US Surgeon General.
* According to the WHO, “a large body of empirical evidence” has shown that plain packaging reduces the attractiveness of tobacco, eliminates packs as a form of advertising, and encourages smokers to quit.
* Smoking also harms non-smokers, as secondhand smoke causes thousands of lung cancer and heart disease deaths per year in the United States alone, according to the WHO.
Our research demonstrates more than 100 Atlas Network affiliated organizations have taken positions against tobacco control, principally tobacco taxation, plain packaging and clean indoor air laws. In addition to this, our findings also indicate more than 50 Atlas Network affiliated thinktanks have accepted donations from the tobacco industry, most often while arguing against tobacco controls. Transparency experts have told The Guardian this causes the appearance of a conflict of interest, especially when donors are not disclosed.
To that end, we have the following information and questions specifically about your organisation:
* The Center of the American Experiment accepted donations from Altria, parent company of Philip Morris USA, in 2013, 2014 and 2016, according to disclosures by Altria. Can you comment?
* Has the Center of the American Experiment accepted donations from transnational tobacco companies, such as British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International or Japan Tobacco, in the last 10 years?
* Our reporting shows the Center of the American Experiment opposed measures that would tax cigarettes. At the same time, the group accepted donations from Altria, according to disclosures by the tobacco company. Can you comment?
* In commentary, the Center of the American Experiment did not reference the large body of evidence, often cited by the World Bank or World Health Organization, which ties smuggling rates to weak governance and corruption. Instead, the Center of the American Experiment tied smuggling to taxes. Why did the Center of the American Experiment choose not to include this large body of evidence in its analyses?
* The Center of the American Experiment was among dozens of Atlas Network thinktanks which received funding from the tobacco industry and opposed tobacco taxation. What is the Center of the American Experiment response to these findings?
* Economists and public health authorities have told the Guardian the actions of Center for the American Experiment and other Atlas affiliates, taken together, represent an influential global network which benefits the tobacco industry by arguing against control policies. They say such actions, by undermining controls, can cause real public health harms. Can you comment?
I believe these are matters that it is in the public interest to investigate with a view to publication. I only intend to publish information where I believe there is a legitimate public interest in doing so.
If I do not hear from you by 9am ET Thursday 1 Nov (preferably by email to [email protected]), I shall proceed on the basis that you do not wish to comment on or amend my information.
I hope you will take this opportunity to respond if you wish. Your substantive responses to each of the above matters will be carefully considered and published if appropriate.
(For the avoidance of doubt, we do not normally regard any generalised assertion of “inaccuracies” as a substantive response; nor any generalised statement that you acted on advice. Neither will we regard as substantive any comment that only refers to the present state of affairs and not to the past.)
I am, of course, happy to discuss directly any concerns you may have.
I would be most grateful if you would acknowledge receipt of this letter. This will save me from chasing.
Thanks very much,
Is this a “journalist” with an agenda? You be the judge. Rather than comment on Ms. Glenza’s email, I will simply reproduce my response to her:
Ms. Glenza, you seem to be under the impression that our organization is in favor of smoking. We are not.
You do not appear to have much familiarity with our work, if any. We have argued against regressive taxation, and tobacco taxes are regressive. We have pointed out that unusually high tobacco taxes in a state like Minnesota hurt merchants, especially gas stations and convenience stores, located near the state’s borders where customers can easily take their business to neighboring states with lower tobacco prices. And we have noted that Minnesota’s tobacco tax is poor public policy because it features an automatic increase that excuses legislators from having to review the impact of the tax on smoking and the businesses that sell tobacco products.
We also have argued that our state’s unusually high tobacco taxes create opportunities for smuggling cigarettes from states with lower taxes, thereby introducing an organized crime element into Minnesota. A Tax Foundation report found that cigarette smuggling is a serious problem in Minnesota, with more than one-third of all cigarettes smoked in Minnesota being trafficked into the state from lower-tax jurisdictions. Your email suggests that you are not well-informed about these issues. Is it your position that the smuggling of enormous quantities of cigarettes into Minnesota results from Minnesota’s “weak governance and corruption”? That is a novel theory that I have never heard expressed before.
I do not believe the Center has done any work on tobacco taxation in the last several years.
You mention the Atlas Network. I do not recall having heard of the Atlas Network, and don’t know anything about it.
You seem to be interested in our organization’s donors. The overwhelming majority of American Experiment’s financial support comes from thousands of individual Minnesotans who share our goal of making Minnesota a better place. Like all 501 (c)(3) non-profits, we do not disclose information about our donors. However, since you say you have already reviewed Altria’s disclosures of its extremely modest contributions to the Center, I will add that in the last three years, donations from Altria have represented nowhere near one tenth of one percent of our organization’s revenue.
I have never had a high opinion of the quality or integrity of the Guardian’s reporting. I must say that your email, which displays both extreme bias and a striking lack of knowledge or understanding, has done nothing to enhance my opinion of the Guardian.
Center of the American Experiment
Not all reporters are biased and incompetent, but an extraordinary number are. And, somehow, their bias pretty much always tilts to the left.