Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell wrote an op-ed piece Wednesday in The New York Daily News in which he urged New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to embrace fracking and encourage greater production of natural gas.
That was followed yesterday by this noisy headline at ProPublica: "More Than a Matter of Opinion: Ed Rendell’s Plea for Fracking Fails to Disclose Industry Ties." Under that headline, Justin Elliott wrote that Rendell has worked "as a paid consultant to a private equity firm with investments in the natural gas industry."
I have no argument about the disclosure of this relationship. Rendell should have told the Daily News about it, as Rendell admitted when contacted by Elliott. The Daily News's opinion editor, Josh Greenman, told Elliott in an email that he "would have disclosed that and conceivably would have made a different judgment on the piece" had he known about the relationship.
I have no argument with that. The relationship should have been disclosed. And if Greenman had decided not to run the piece, I wouldn't have an argument with that either. (The Daily News has now added a line to the online version of Rendell's piece disclosing the tie.)
Does Rendell's relationship with industry impugn his piece? What kind of relationship constitutes an "industry tie"? And what was Rendell's relationship with the natural gas industry?
ProPublica reports that Rendell is paid about $30,000 per year by Element Partners, which has "investments in the natural gas industry." And that he is a senior adviser at Greenhill, an investment bank that "has worked on several large transactions involving natural gas companies."
Rendell told ProPublica that he "does not own equity in Element Partners or any fracking companies. 'The only conflict would be if I had a pecuniary interest in the natural gas industry doing well, and I certainly don’t,' he said."
He certainly has "ties" to industry, in the narrowest sense of the word. And–again–they should have been revealed. But do they invalidate Rendell's opinion? I'm not sure; I think that if it were my decision, I would opt to publish his piece with the disclosure. I wouldn't kill it.
And do his industry ties justify the tarring that the headline gives Rendell? If a reader saw only the headline in a tweet, he or she might conclude that Rendell was guilty of blatant, covert promotion of industry positions.
But that is not the case–at least as far as we know. We are firmly in a gray area here.
Rendell is entitled to his opinions, and the rest of us are entitled to publish them, or listen to them, or not. But ProPublica is not right to suggest in a headline that Rendell is an industry shill. He might turn out to be an industry shill. But Elliott and ProPublica have not made that case.