By Peter Funt
Pop quiz: Which of the following was hatched in the mind of George Costanza? (a) The Center for Financial Stability, (b) The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, (c) The Hudson Institute, (d) The American Enterprise Institute.
The answer is none. George's invention on "Seinfeld" was The Human Fund, an organization whose name was so blandly nonpartisan that it just had to be worthy.
The four others named above are quite real, operating with titles that intentionally lack distinction. And each contributes opinion articles to major publications.
An op-ed in The New York Times calling for a tax on financial transactions was written by Jared Bernstein, identified as "a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities" and former advisor to Joe Biden. Most likely, few Times readers could explain much, if anything, about Bernstein's current place of employment, let alone its roots and reason for being.
"We are a nonpartisan research and policy institute," it's website states. In fact, the CBPP is a progressive advocacy group, founded in 1981 to improve the lives of low-income Americans. To me, that's a meritorious distinction; to others, perhaps, it's a red flag.
A book review in The Wall Street Journal by Sally Satel identifies her as "a psychiatrist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute." The book being examined was "The Biology of Desire," subtitled, "Why addiction is not a disease."
The AEI website uses the terms "private" and "nonpartisan" to describe its mission. However, Right Wing Watch is more insightful, stating that AEI is one of the nation's oldest "right-wing think tanks."
And what, you ask, is Right Wing Watch? Its site says it is run by People for the American Way. Say, what? "Our operational mission is to promote the American Way and defend it from attack." Sounds a lot like the Human Fund.
In fact, People for the American Way is an ultra-liberal group, founded by Norman Lear, dedicated to promoting progressive causes and candidates.
So what we have here, as famously noted in "Cool Hand Luke," is "failure to communicate." That failure, on the part of special-interest groups, is at least understandable. On the part of news organizations it's unfortunate.
A column about sexual abuse in prisons ran recently in USA Today. The writer, Brett M. Decker, was identified as "a director at the White House Writers Group" — a mighty impressive name. But describing what? Folks who currently work at the White House? Staff at the White House Communications Office?
Turns out this group is comprised of former White House speechwriters. The mission statement is a beaut: "The White House Writers Group is unapologetically pro-business and pro-markets." So, it's a conservative group. And, "WHWG combines policy and communications expertise to achieve results critical for clients across a broad range of industries." So, it's actually a conservative lobbying group.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave. Calling themselves the White House Writers Group seems disingenuous at best. And USA Today's decision to identify the organization by name without further explanation is hardly a full or meaningful disclosure.
In the hunt for misleading monikers, nothing jumps off front pages more than the recent activities by the Center for Medical Progress. What a devious and deceptive name for an organization that used hidden-camera footage to entrap officials at Planned Parenthood. The aim was to show that Planned Parenthood's use of tissue from aborted fetuses is illegal, which it is not.
Until recently, the "Center" described itself as "dedicated to informing and educating both the lay public and the scientific community about the latest advances in regenerative medicine." That's not misleading, it's a total fraud.
Readers are gradually awakening to the fact that in the digital age on-screen sources are often hard to pin down. Editors at established outlets need to do a better job of identifying contributors, both in news stories and in opinion columns.
Those of us at the Center for a Properly Informed America will be watching.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, "Cautiously Optimistic," is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com. © 2015 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.