When a reporter writes a news story, particularly one about research, one of the key things he or she strives for is balance. Journalists often go out of their way to find someone who will contradict the findings of a study or report simply for the sake of presenting opposing sides of an argument.
One PR firm appears to have capitalized on that requirement of modern American journalism. Salon’s Lisa Graves has written this examination
of the firm Berman and Co. and its relationship to the “Employment Policies Institute.” Basically, they’re one and the same.
Recently, EPI, which shares its initials with the Economic Policy Institute, made its way into the news by being the dissenting voice against a study from University of California, Berkeley, that found fast-food workers receive about $7 billion in government assistance each year. Researchers argued that the minimum wage should be raised; EPI said it shouldn’t.
Most stories that quoted Michael Saltsman, the institute’s research director, did not note any connection to Berman. A few of Saltsman’s op-ed pieces noted that EPI receives funding from restaurants.
Richard Berman, the head of Berman and Co., was a longtime restaurant executive. Since starting his firm, he has represented soda makers and tobacco companies.
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Berman and Co. doesn’t hide its relationship with EPI. Tax documents show the two organizations run out of the same office, SourceWatch has extensive details about the relationship
, and even EPI’s Wikipedia page mentions Berman.
Still, Salon found that 83 percent of news stories that use EPI as a source don’t mention the connection.
It all leads to whether it’s ethical for a PR firm to operate its own think tank. Should EPI and Berman be more open about what they’re doing, or is the onus on reporters and readers? Please share your views in the comments.