With openDemocracy, I dug into the post-Soviet lobbyists spinning American editors and audiences alike:
To be sure, spinning editors and readers alike is simply an extension of Baku’s — or Moscow’s, or Astana’s, or Chisinau’s — lobbying efforts elsewhere. For Azerbaijan, such efforts extend to undisclosed financing in American academia to one of the most notable ethics scandals in the US Congress over the past decade, which saw Azeri lobbyists wine and dine US Representatives with lavish, and undisclosed, gifts. And lobbyist misrepresentation is by no means a novel phenomenon. Lobbyists posing as supposedly riled-up citizens is one of the reasons the US passed the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938.
But the past few years have seen a decided uptick in those tasked with whitewashing post-Soviet autocracies failing to disclose their ties — and American editors, chasing the viral dragon, proving all too eager to go along for the ride. While think tanks are increasingly moving toward greater transparency in terms of financing, lobbyists — especially as interest in the post-Soviet space has spiked— have increasingly targeted American publications. “Many digital publications, and traditional journals under pressure from digital age conditions, try to generate extra traffic by publishing a lot of stuff, including unpaid opinion columns,” Jay Rosen, a journalism professor and media ethics expert at New York University, tells me, explaining that the need for “any content, at low or zero cost” has “creat[ed] the conditions in which pieces like these can slip through.”