The Worst Buckraking Is the Kind You Don’t Realize You’re Doing

The big through-line in Noam Scheiber’s piece on former Obama administration officials cashing in is that there are certain sensitivities and levels of mixed feelings. And after all it makes sense. If you’re trying to parlay your connections and inside knowledge into financial gain, you can’t go do things that anger all your former colleagues. But he does note one exception that I think is important and actually more pernicious than the other examples he explores in more detail:

There’s also the entertainment industry, which is “a for-profit corporate space that’s a safe area for Democrats,” says a former White House staffer. “You can go work for Harvey Weinstein and make all this money.” Obama aide Michael Strautmanis recently left to help oversee “corporate citizenship” at Disney, and Jim Gilio, a White House spokesman, now represents talent at a Los Angeles entertainment law firm.

It seems to me that where corruption problems really get bad is when you don’t even see the corruption. Normally a buckraker needs to walk the line between the use of his access and connections and his need to avoid spending too much of that capital down by aggressively pushing indefensible positions. But in high-level Democratic Party circles, the entertainment industry is somehow seen as different from other corporate sectors—intrinsically viewed with less suspicion. And that’s when your corporate lobbying gets extremely effective and when the policy consequences can get really pernicious. Scheiber leads with a good story about how Michelle Obama’s former communications director helped Siemens get a plug in the State of the Union. It’s a great example of influence-peddling, but also a great example of its normal limits. The fact of the matter is that the program Obama highlighted really was a great fit for the themes of the 2012 State of the Union. But Hollywood has really managed to turn off the critical thinking functions of many Democrats, leading to a situation where the backlash against SOPA/PIPA had to be lead by Republicans.