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Tainted facts from a tainted well
[June 6, 2002]

By Nicholas Provenzo

One of the standard arguments we get at the Center is because we take stands that defend business and receive financial support from businessmen, we are somehow part of a grand conspiracy to suppress the truth. I don't know how many times I personally have given a news interview only to to be asked at the end, "so who pays for all of this?" The person's tone of voice changes and it's pretty easy to tell that despite any argument I may have made in defense of my position, the funding question will be the real fact to drive the reporter's story. The obvious implication is that our integrity is for sale.

A typical example of this happing to another policy group is an article by Michelle Delio in yesterday's Wired News. Delio reports on a white paper on Open-Source software to be released by the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution this Friday. Delio's major theme is that since the de Tocqueville Institution receives financial support from Microsoft, it is simply assumed that the Institution is the mindless patsy of Microsoft without any critical examination of the actual content of the Institution's paper. I wrote Delio the following letter in response:

Dear Ms. Dellio:

In regards to your Wired News story on the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution's Open Source paper (Did MS Pay for Open-Source Scare?), I question why the main focus of the article is whether or not Microsoft provides financial support for the de Tocqueville Institution, instead of an objective examination of the arguments made in the Institution’s paper itself.

It seems that in your story, you have substituted the Marxist view of truth for the objective view of truth. A Marxist claims that truth is a product of "economic interest.” For example, under the Marxist view, it is assumed a businessman has different agenda that a factory worker. Accordingly, the de Tocqueville Institution’s paper is suspect the instant any connection to Microsoft is revealed.

Yet the mere fact that Microsoft supports or opposes a public policy organization tells us nothing about the veracity of the claims the policy organization makes. The claims themselves should be the sole factor in determining the truth of the argument. Since the de Tocqueville Institution’s paper is not to be released until Friday, I find it impossible for anyone to intelligently comment on its content. Mere speculation is no substitute for facts.


Nicholas Provenzo

Reporting like Delio's says a lot about the agenda of the reporter. Delio's article tells me that she sees the open source story more as a struggle between two interests than a story about the viability of two different methods of deploying software. She has turned a technical question into a social question, and she has taken the side of the open source advocates by attacking the integrity of the proprietary software advocates before their argument has even been publicly released. Her reporting is useless to anyone who needs to make a factual choice between the two systems; its only value is for those who make decisions based on gossip and smears. For me at least, that's the province of the office cooler, not a news magazine.


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