by Robert Reich
Consider Donald J. Trump. It may seem odd to mention Trump at the same time I’m talking about Google. Google’s executives tend to be on the left. Eric Schmidt was a major backer of Hillary Clinton.
But power is power, and Trump has demonstrated a similar tendency to throw his ever-expanding weight around. Like Google, he doesn’t particularly like to be criticized, if you hadn’t noticed.
Trump also has a record of paying off politicians. During the 2016 Republican primaries, when attacked by his GOP rivals for having once donated money to Hillary Clinton, Trump explained “as a businessman and a very substantial donor to very important people, when you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do.”
After Trump’s charitable foundation made a $25,000 contribution to a campaign organization linked to Florida’s Attorney General, she decided not to open a fraud investigation of Trump University that her office had been considering. Not quite the Federal Trade Commission, but a similar transaction.
To support his ambitions, Trump has also paid for, shall we say, fake news. His presidential campaign seems to have financed a lot of fictional dirt on Hillary.
Google doesn’t pay for fake news, but it does pay off academics to help sway public opinion and policymakers in its favor.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Google has financed hundreds of professors at places like Harvard and Berkeley to write research papers that help Google defend itself against regulatory challenges of its market dominance. Google’s payments range from $5,000 to $400,000.
This research has been used by Google in courtrooms, regulatory hearings, and congressional hearings.
Some professors have allowed Google to see the papers before they’re published, enabling Google to give them “suggestions,” according to emails obtained by the Journal.
The professors’ research papers don’t disclose that Google sought them out, and don’t necessarily reveal Google’s backing.
I’m not suggesting their research has been faked. But the failure to fully disclose Google’s connection with it does raise questions about its objectivity.
Google and Trump are wildly different, of course, but they’ve been playing much the same game. They’ve used their clout to stifle criticism, paid members of Congress to pull their punches, and bought fake or at least questionable facts to support of their goals.
Whether it’s a giant left-leaning corporation or an unhinged alt-right president, the underlying problem is the same. It imperils our democracy and breeds distrust in our system. Such abuse of power is morally wrong.