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Google critic's firing sparks backlash within New America ranks

by Noah Kulwin
Sep 5 2017, 2:34pm

The New America Foundation is facing substantial backlash from Democrats, academics, and journalists — including those within its own ranks — a week after it was revealed that Google pressure led to the firing of a prominent Google critic at the left-leaning think tank.

A letter sent Saturday by 25 current and former members of the New America Fellows Program criticized the organization’s initial response to a New York Times story detailing how a major New America donor, Google, pushed Barry Lynn and his anti-monopoly Open Markets program out of the foundation. Existence of the fellows’ letter was first reported by the Times on Friday.

The fellows who authored the letter said they were “deeply concerned” by the Times’ story but noted they’d never felt donor pressure individually.

The signatories include journalists such as George Packer and Patrick Radden Keefe of the New Yorker and Nikole Hannah-Jones of the New York Times, and scholars such as Brooklyn Law School’s Sabeel Rahman and Harvard’s Evgeny Morozov.

“We are troubled by the initial lack of transparency and communication from New America’s leadership on this topic,” the letter (which is embedded below) states. “We remain deeply concerned about this sequence of events, and believe that better answers and clarity must be immediately forthcoming to assure us, and the outside world, that New America’s work is truly independent, now and going forward.”

Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of the New America Foundation, has denied that Google pressure in any way led to the firing of Barry Lynn and the expulsion from the think tank of his 10-person, anti-monopoly Open Markets program.

Google and executive chairman Eric Schmidt have given around $20 million to New America over the past two decades, and Lynn and Open Markets have emerged as leading critics of Google in the past few years. Google has acknowledged that Schmidt expressed “displeasure” to Slaughter over Open Markets’ criticism of Google’s dominant market power in digital advertising, but denied that he called for Lynn’s firing.

The scandal comes at a time when popular antitrust scrutiny of Silicon Valley giants like Google and Amazon has never been higher. The allegedly precipitating incident that led to Lynn’s and Open Markets’ dismissal was their statement in support of a $2.7 billion fine that the EU handed to Google at the end of June. Slaughter told Lynn shortly after that their statement was “imperiling the institution as a whole,” that Open Markets and New America had to “part ways,” and that Google should have been given more notice — while acknowledging that “this decision is in no way based on the content of your work.”

“She has just admitted that donors deserve special treatment — some kind of courtesy or heads up,” one New America fellow told VICE News, requesting anonymity to speak freely. “If you have admitted that, then what is that? What do [these donors] deserve? What are the special privileges they get?”

In response to the letter, New America told the signatories that the foundation would be holding a “town hall” on Wednesday afternoon to address the issues. Details of the event will not be made public.

“We welcome this letter from several of New America’s current and former fellows,” Slaughter said in a statement to VICE News. “We have been honored to work with these individuals over the years, appreciate hearing their thoughts, and will work to provide clear and candid answers where they have questions.”

You can read the fellows’ letter below:

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