When ‘regular’ people aren’t what they appear to be

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It’s extremely common for news stories, in print and broadcast media, to quote a “regular” person. The quotes are intended to offer insights that the public wouldn’t get from policymakers.

The problem comes when these “regular” people aren’t quite what they appear to be. We recently talked about Joe Olivo, who runs a printing business in New Jersey, and who somehow ends up getting quoted all the time in major media, making critical comments about President Obama. What the coverage has neglected to mention is that Olivo is pushing a political line from the National Federation of Independent Business, which favors a conservative political agenda.

Other than Fox, NPR has helped Olivo push his talking points more than any other outlet, and NPR’s ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos conceded the network erred.

But it’s not just NPR and it’s not just Olivo. Ryan Chittum caught another one (via Atrios).

Take one of [the New York Times’s] main anecdotes, Drew Greenblatt, who owns a small manufacturing firm in Baltimore called Marlin Steel Wire and who gets his picture in theTimes. This was his third NYT hit in three months. Here are Mr. Greenblatt’s other press hits in June: The NBC Nightly News, PBS Newshour (twice), NPR’s Morning Edition, The Hamilton Spectator. So far this year he’s also been on CNN Newsroom and Fox Business (four times), and in the Financial Times, Reuters, and the Associated Press, plus a number of smaller publications. Two years ago, Greenblatt and his company were the focus of a flattering 2,300 word Atlantic profile, and he scored a couple of WaPo profiles in 2001 and 2007.

How’d this one small business owner in Baltimore find his way into so many news stories as the designated “regular” person? It turns out, Greenblatt is an executive-committee member of the board of the National Association of Manufacturers, the powerful trade lobby that tends to favor anti-union and the conservative business measures.

None of the reports mentioned Greenblatt’s association with NAM. What’s more, it’s all but certain that NAM connected the reporters with Greenblatt.

The next time you see small business owners criticizing progressive policies, it might be worth pausing to consider who else they represent, other than themselves.

When 'regular' people aren't what they appear to be

Updated