The Op-ed Industrial Complex: At least one sector of the economy is humming


When most people see an online or newspaper op-ed they very naturally assume that it was written by the person whose name is on the byline. They are badly mistaken.

Most political op-eds have been crafted by lobbyists, PR flacks and other political operatives. Then a big-name is recruited to put his or her name on it and it is handed off to news outlets for publication.

But it’s even worse than that. Not only are these op-eds generally bogus in terms of authorship, they frequently have a specific purpose in mind, and it’s rarely a high-minded one such as the pursuit of knowledge. More often than not, it’s a crass commercial interest — for example, securing an overseas business deal for the op-ed crafters’ client(s) — or getting a political candidate elected to office. Or, in some cases, both.

Indeed, an entire cottage industry exists peddling access to newspaper opinion pages for sizable fees. The best influence peddlers churn out a steady stream of pieces on behalf of the biggest corporations and special interests in the world. 

What this means is that political opinion pieces in an election year are a roadmap for figuring out who or what interests will benefit from a candidate winning the presidency. 

A recent opinion piece, “I Ran the C.I.A. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton”, in the New York Times is a perfect example of this.  It’s a short simple piece totally devoid of relevant context and detached from reality.  It’s an example of pure influence peddling.  

The author of the op-ed, Michael Morell, now works for Beacon Global Strategies, a powerful DC firm stuffed with former high-ranking government officials that appears to be advising weapons manufacturers and Presidential candidates on foreign policy. 

Hillary Clinton is a client and her former “principal gatekeeper,” Philippe Reines, is the founder and managing director. Check “revolving door” on and a link to the BGS website should pop up.

The New York Times knows most of their readers can run a simple Google search and spot this conflict of interest that they failed to disclose. They published it anyway and here’s why: they believe their readers are ignorant of how revolving door operatives use the Op-Ed Industrial Complex to sway public opinion on everything from Presidential elections to declarations of war.  They’re assured of this assumption simply because they’re marching in lockstep with their competition, which uses the same group of operatives for the source material that fills their pages.

The Op-Ed Industrial Complex is one of the primary tools used by bipartisan operatives working the revolving door.  It is at the core of much of the corruption the New York Times now and then reports within its pages. 

Ask Jack Abramoff. Nothing has changed since the days when he was toiling away as a lobbyist in Washington.

There isn’t a single employee at the Times that doesn’t know how corrupt the revolving door is but they accept it, and promote it, because they rely on revolving door sources to feed the beast.

And sucking up to revolving door sources is seen by lazy reporters as the price of admission to gain cherished access to the information they crave, much of which is thinly disguised PR. The news industry has been built on these sorts of tradeoffs and things are getting worse and worse as journalists cut corners to compete in a hyper-evolving media environment.

Beacon doesn’t have to legally disclose who its clients are as they’ve found a loophole in the lobbying disclosure law. But a look at their website “news” page to get an idea of how big the stakes will be on election night 2016. Their clients include defense contractors selling weapons around the globe and they are paying Beacon to talk about Cyber war, Arctic war, war in Syria and war against ISIS. 

News outlets are under no legal obligation to disclose conflicts of interests with the sources they use to create content. In fact, I couldn’t find a single disclosure of a potential conflict after viewing and reading dozens of Beacon staff appearances in nearly every single print and television outlet.         

The best cons are based on trust. A piece with “I Ran the C.I.A.” in the title published in the New York Times, written by a self-described non-partisan, ending in “my training as an intelligence officer taught me to call it as I see it,” garners a ton of trust. Would a reader “trust” the Times or Morell if the piece were titled, “I Am a Paid Political Operative and Now I’m Endorsing Hillary?” Yeah, I don’t think so either.

Between now and election day, voters are going to be bombarded with a media Shock and Awe campaign led by operatives working for clients that want to drop real bombs on real people. Watch the Op-Ed Industrial Complex carefully. It will let you know where we’re heading during the next four years. 

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Cyrus James has worked as a consultant for media and public affairs firms. His work, centered on investigative pieces on political corruption, can be found littered throughout most major media outlets and newspapers.