Jan 26, 2021 - Technology

Newsweek's opinion editor has an anti-tech side gig

Newsweek cover

Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Newsweek's opinion page editor, Josh Hammer, consistently publishes op-eds slamming Big Tech and Google while remaining counsel at the Internet Accountability Project, a group partly funded by Oracle.

What's happening: The op-eds rail against Google's business model and size and the power and reach of big tech companies.

  • After being contacted by Axios, Newsweek added a disclosure about Hammer's role with IAP on a recent political column where he wrote about the need for conservatives to fight back against Big Tech.

Why it matters: Opinion pages run a range of pieces by differing voices on all sorts of topics, and Newsweek is no different. But Hammer's role volunteering as counsel for an outside anti-tech group, while running anti-tech op-eds, even with proper disclosure, is unusual for a news organization.

Between the lines: Google and Oracle have been bitterly sparring for years, and the Supreme Court is currently deciding the outcome of a major copyright case between the two tech giants that's been percolating for a decade. IAP is one of many groups involved in the debate between anti- and pro- Big Tech camps.

Details: Hammer has made no secret of his dual roles — they're noted on his Twitter and LinkedIn profiles.

  • A Jan. 12 piece authored by Rachel Bovard, counsel at IAP, argues that Google and Apple spiking Parler from their app stores after the Capitol riot shows that Big Tech is a threat to free society and must be reined in.
  • Will Chamberlain, another IAP counsel, argues in a Jan. 19 piece (with a disclosure note about Oracle funding IAP) that Google's defense against current antitrust suits is wrong and misleading.
  • A Jan. 22 piece by Hammer argues that conservatives must push back against Big Tech and "Silicon Valley oligarchs." That piece received a disclosure about IAP after Axios reached out.

What they're saying: IAP president Mike Davis told Axios: "We are very pleased that Josh Hammer is providing his volunteer legal services to the Internet Accountability Project, and we are very pleased that we’ve been so effective so quickly that Google’s trying to cancel one of our volunteers."

  • Newsweek told Axios:
"Newsweek has run op-eds from several writers associated with the Internet Accountability Project. We disclosed the connection between the writers and IAP and, in one case, when an IAP-authored piece referred to the legal dispute between Google and Oracle, the disclosure also included a note about Oracle's role in funding IAP.
Josh Hammer's voluntary work for IAP is not a secret and was announced in a press release clearly stating that he was also the opinion editor of Newsweek. Hammer has never written a piece about technology for Newsweek. If he does, we will make a specific disclosure about Hammer's IAP role. As opinion editor, Hammer fulfills Newsweek's editorial mission to publish a wide range of views on issues of public interest including technology. For example, several of the IAP op-eds were run as part of Newsweek's debate format in which they were published alongside a piece with the opposite point of view."
— Newsweek statement

The big picture: Newsweek has lost much of its former luster after struggling to adapt to the internet era. Oracle has a history of using creative tactics to accomplish its policy goals, and some think they go too far.

The other side: It's not uncommon for tech companies to push their messages through third-party groups. Google does this as well, through third-party groups and think tanks.

  • Groups like the Connected Commerce Council — which count Google, Amazon, Square and Facebook as "partners" — plant pro-Google and anti-regulation op-eds in newspapers, the Washington Post previously reported (originally without disclosure, though they have changed that policy, Big Technology reports).

Our thought bubble: Compromised messengers are nothing new in Washington for any industry. What's unique here is the editor of Newsweek's opinion page has a conflict every time something publishes that's anti-tech.

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