A furious think-tank boss, Google, and an academic 'fired' for criticizing ads giant

Strange tale takes a new turn as CEO fights back


"Nothing we say is going to convince the many people who want to believe a David versus Goliath story of Barry Lynn versus big bad Google," she bemoans.

But here's the thing: Slaughter's post does exactly that. She just doesn't seem to be able to understand how soft money influence actually works.

Here is the most critical part: Slaughter does not deny that she received a communication from Eric Schmidt specifically complaining about Lynn's statement. In fact, by not even mentioning that core claim while admitting that she had personally known Schmidt for many years and that he even encouraged her to take the CEO position after Google and Schmidt had already financed the think tank, she as good as confirms that the call happened.

Slaughter defends her right to see and sign off on public statements from employees before she defends their independence. And she paints Lynn's failure to give her advance notice of his critical statement as a sign that he has breached loyalty.

She even makes it plain that she was prepared to insist on changes to Lynn's statement before giving approval for publication – which no doubt is precisely why Lynn felt he needed to "publish and be damned," knowing that any strong claim that the US authorities need to dig into Google's businesses was liable to meet interference from Slaughter.

And that is almost the textbook definition of how soft power works: by ensuring self-censorship.

Quid pro oh no

The fact is that if the financial relationship with Google and Schmidt wasn't there, and if Slaughter wasn't an old friend of Schmidt's, there would not have been any concern over Lynn's statement in the first place. It was, after all, a personal statement from a think tank: hardly draft legislation or anti-trust charges.

That Lynn felt the need to push his statement out without going through Slaughter, and the fact that she had such a strong reaction when he didn't, combined with the virtual certainty that Schmidt called soon after to express his annoyance, is as clear an example of soft money influence as you will ever find.

Slaughter concludes her post by saying: "But for us, organizations like us, and the media who cover us, let's start by speaking truth, even when it's complicated and messy and hard."

So here's the complicated, messy truth: Google fired Lynn because his fierce criticism made it through to the outside; and Slaughter, as CEO of New America, was complicit in giving a corporate giant undue influence over an organization whose job it is to keep an eye on such abuses of corporate power. ®

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