The Myth of the Rich as Job Creators (VIDEO OF THE WEEK)
Music Video of the Week, 28 May 2012
by TED Talks, Nick Hanauer – TRANSCEND Media Service
Today TED was subject to a story so misleading it would be funny… except it successfully launched an aggressive online campaign against us.
The National Journal alleged we had censored a talk because we considered the issue of inequality “too hot to handle.” The story ignited a firestorm of outrage on Reddit, Huffington Post and elsewhere. We were accused of being cowards. We were in the pay of our corporate partners. We were the despicable puppets of the Republican party.
Here’s what actually happened.
At TED this year, an attendee pitched a 3-minute audience talk on inequality. The talk tapped into a really important and timely issue. But it framed the issue in a way that was explicitly partisan. And it included a number of arguments that were unconvincing, even to those of us who supported his overall stance The audience at TED who heard it live (and who are often accused of being overly enthusiastic about left-leaning ideas) gave it, on average, mediocre ratings.
At TED we post one talk a day on our home page. We’re drawing from a pool of 250+ that we record at our own conferences each year and up to 10,000 recorded at the various TEDx events around the world, not to mention our other conference partners. Our policy is to post only talks that are truly special. And we try to steer clear of talks that are bound to descend into the same dismal partisan head-butting people can find every day elsewhere in the media.
We discussed internally and ultimately told the speaker we did not plan to post. He did not react well. He had hired a PR firm to promote the talk to MoveOn and others, and the PR firm warned us that unless we posted he would go to the press and accuse us of censoring him. We again declined and this time I wrote him and tried gently to explain in detail why I thought his talk was flawed.
So he forwarded portions of the private emails to a reporter and the National Journal duly bit on the story. And it was picked up by various other outlets.
And a non-story about a talk not being chosen, because we believed we had better ones, somehow got turned into a scandal about censorship. Which is like saying that if I call the New York Times and they turn down my request to publish an op-ed by me, they’re censoring me.
For the record, pretty much everyone at TED, including me, worries a great deal about the issue of rising inequality. We’ve carried talks on it in the past, like this one from Richard Wilkinson. We’d carry more in the future if someone can find a way of framing the issue that is convincing and avoids being needlessly partisan in tone.
Also, for the record, we have never sought advice from any of our advertisers on what we carry editorially. To anyone who knows how TED operates, or who has observed the noncommercial look and feel of the website, the notion that we would is laughable. We only care about one thing: finding the best speakers and the best ideas we can, and sharing them with the world. For free. I’ve devoted the rest of my life to doing this, and honestly, it’s pretty disheartening to have motives and intentions taken to task so viciously by people who simply don’t know the facts.
One takeaway for us is that we’re considering at some point posting the full archive from future conferences (somewhere away from the home page). Perhaps this would draw the sting from the accusations of censorship. Here, for starters, is the talk concerned. You can judge for yourself…
No doubt it will now, ironically, get stupendous viewing numbers and spark a magnificent debate, and then the conspiracy theorists will say the whole thing was a set-up!
OK… thanks for listening. Over and out.
* * *
TED — the non-profit group behind the popular TED Talks and whose self-asserted mission is devoted to promoting “ideas worth spreading” — has come under fire today as news spread that it is refusing to post the video of a talk by venture capitalist, Nick Hanauer, given at one of its regional events earlier this year.
In the talk, Hanauer, an early investor in Amazon.com and a multimillionaire, argued that income inequality was a detraction to a healthy economy and scoffed at the familiar rightwing talking point that the wealthy are the de-facto ‘job creators’ in the marketplace. He further argued that cutting taxes is harmful to the middle class and the overall economy. According to reports, the talked received a standing ovation when initially presented at TED.
“When businesspeople take credit for creating jobs,” Hanauer said in his talk, “It’s a little like squirrels taking credit for creating evolution. In fact, it’s the other way around.”
But now, Chris Anderson, director of TED, refuses to release the video of the talk on its website, saying that the message is overtly controversial and too partisan for broad consumption.
In an email sent to Hanauer and shared with Jim Tankersley at the National Journal, Anderson wrote:
“… even if the talk was rated a home run, we couldn’t release it, because it would be unquestionably regarded as out and out political. We’re in the middle of an election year in the US. Your argument comes down firmly on the side of one party. And you even reference that at the start of the talk. TED is nonpartisan and is fighting a constant battle with TEDx organizers to respect that principle….
“Nick, I personally share your disgust at the growth in inequality in the US, and would love to have found a way to give people a clearer mindset on the issue, without stoking a tedious partisan rehash of all the arguments we hear every day in the mainstream media.
“Alas, my judgment – and it is just a judgment, and that’s why my job title is ‘curator’ – is that publishing your talk would not meet that goal.”
The Huffington Post‘s Jillian Berman argues “Hanauer’s remarks shouldn’t have been too much of a shock to TED organizers, considering that he’d been an outspoken critic of the notion that lowering taxes on the rich will help create jobs. In December, Hanauer penned an op-ed for Bloomberg, which included many of the same arguments featured in his TED talk. It even used some of the exact same language.”
And Ezra Klein, writing at The Washington Post, remarks: “Whether the idea is “worth spreading” or not is up to you to judge. But TED won’t be spreading it. Because as we know, the history of ideas worth spreading is that they never offend society’s entrenched interests.”
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 3.0 United States License.