Last night, Rachel Maddow did something I never thought I'd see a journalist do: In the name of transparency, she went back and clarified that a bailout-justifying guest of hers actually had a blatant conflict of interest. Watch the clip here.On Monday, Maddow had on Berkeley professor Laura Tyson to talk about the bailout. You can watch that clip here. As you'll see, Tyson defended the firms that have received bailout money, saying they are not at fault in either how they are using the money, or in how they are refusing to answer questions about their use of the money. She also insisted that companies that get bailout money should be able to keep paying dividends to their shareholders.
Yet, Tyson didn't tell viewers that she sits on the board of directors of Morgan Stanley, a bank that has received $10 billion in bailout money. That's right - according to Morgan Stanley's SEC filings, Tyson makes about $350,000 a year from Morgan Stanley in total compensation from that position, and she now owns about 79,000 shares of the company. In other words, she has a direct financial interest in defending the bailout, absolving bailout recipients of wrongdoing, and justifying the use of bailout money for shareholder dividends.
Obviously, it's really unethical to appear on a show billing yourself as an objective disinterested professor at the same time you aren't telling people you are on the board of directors of the company you are effectively defending. But, as a recent New York Times story about defense commentators shows, this kind of thing happens all the time. It's completely corrupt - quite literally, paid industry spokespeople are being allowed to cloak themselves in the veneer of objectivity and use the media to limit the parameters of our political debate on major issues.
Thankfully, when I pointed Tyson's conflict of interest out to Maddow and her show's staff, they did the responsible thing and made a big effort to inform viewers about what happened. Indeed, in doing this follow-up piece, the Rachel Maddow Show displayed the kind of integrity and respect for their audience that is almost unheard of in political journalism. In being so honest about this, they really showed what their program is all about, and how they aren't willing to be used or deceived by corporate spokespeople.