Saturday, April 02, 2011

Does Benjamin Barber know the meaning of "full disclosure"? Does the Huffington Post?

Benjamin Barber is a respected political scientist who often has worthwhile things to say. But he incurred some embarrassment recently for reasons Benjamin Pauker explains:

As a longtime advisor to [Muammar Qaddafi's son] Saif al-Qaddafi, Benjamin Barber knows him just about as well as any Western intellectual. Barber -- president of the CivWorld think tank, distinguished senior fellow at the Demos think tank, and author of Strong Democracy and Jihad vs. McWorld -- was among a small group of democracy advocates and public intellectuals, including Joseph Nye, Anthony Giddens, Francis Fukuyama, and Robert Putnam, working under contract with the Monitor Group consulting firm to interact with Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi on issues of democracy and civil society and to help his son Saif implement democratic reforms and author a more representative constitution for Libya.
That's the introduction to an interview Pauker did with Barber, Understanding Libya's Michael Corleone 03/07/2011. Barber, to his credit, talks at length about his consultations with Qaddafi the Younger in that interview.

The following articles report on Monitor Group's work to rehab Muammar Qaddafi's image:

  • David Corn and Siddhartha Mahanta, From Libya With Love Mother Jones 03/03/2011. Joseph Nye Jr. of Harvard was another academic participating in the Monitor Group's program. Referring to an article Nye did on Libya for The New Republic, Corn and Mahanta observe, "So The New Republic published an article sympathetic to Qaddafi that had been written by a prominent American intellectual paid by a firm that was being compensated by Libya to burnish the dictator's image." He also talks about Barber's role with the project.
There has been some question as to whether Monitor Group properly disclosed its work on behalf of the Libyan government. However, there is no indication of which I'm aware that Barber or the other academics involved in consulting with the Libyan government did anything unethical in their own work sponsored by the Monitor Group. I have no reason to question Barber's benign version of his work that he presents int he interview with Pauker. And, as the articles linked above show, Barber has talked with multiple reporters about his role.

However, there's no mention of his affiliations with PR for Qaddafi's regime in this Huffington Post piece on, uh, Libya: The Dangerous Incoherence of American Policy in Libya 04/01/11. (To be fair to Barber, he did disclose at the start of a Huffington Post column of 02/22/2011, "I offer my views about Libya here not just as a democratic theorist and HuffPost regular, but as a member of the International Board of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation until this morning, when I resigned." He and Huffington Post may have though that was sufficient disclosure.)

In the following statement, for instance, even someone inclined to agree with it will regard it with a more credible eye if they know that the author is someone who was recently paid to assist in a PR campaign on behalf of Qaddafi's government:

Take Libya, where a frenzied media join excited politicians to call for military intervention -- for boots on the ground -- not just to protect civilians but to achieve regime change and the deposing of big rat Gaddafi (even if civilians are put in danger). Yet not so long ago President Bush helped secure the top two American priorities here through a peaceful rapprochement: weapons of mass destruction were removed voluntarily (imagine if Gaddafi still had them!) and the U.S. secured a formidable ally against al Qaeda in North Africa . More al Qaeda operatives were captured in Libya than anywhere else in the region, and Gaddafi was high on al Qaeda's hit list.
The reference to weapons of mass destruction is about what this undated article updated at least in 2004 from, Libyan Nuclear Weapons, relates:

On 19 December 2003 Libya agreed to destroy all of its chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons. The surprise announcement followed nine months of secret talks between Libyan, American, and British officials. Libya agreed to abide by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and to allow for immediate inspections and monitoring.
Another illustration of how the flood of information we can get today requires informed critical judgment more than ever.

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