In a recent column, Washington Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton points out (with the help of a phone call from Ralph Nader) that too many good ideas from outside the mainstream get overlooked by the media, resulting in a Washington echo chamber that acts as a disservice to the public.
And that goes for think tanks, too, Pexton shows with a LexisNexis search.
Or look at think tanks that get cited and quoted in The Post. The mainstream ones do great: the left-of-center Brookings Institution 551 times, the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute 284 times and Heritage Foundation 235 times. The U.S. Institute of Peace, one of the most interesting and innovative “think and do” tanks in the city, supported by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress: three mentions in two years.
Nader calls it the “journalism of trivia and of exclusion” — and he says that citizen groups around the country tell him that media are not hearing them. Readers of all persuasions write to me about this, too — the same sources, same talking heads, over and over.
I agree. In a time of gridlock and polarization, it is especially incumbent on media to seek out and cover the unconventional and outsider voices — whether citizen or expert, whether right, center or left. They’re out there; we just have to listen.
Pexton is right. And with hundreds of think tanks in Washington alone, there’s no reason Think Tanked shouldn’t be at the center of capturing those outsider voices in the think tank world. And that’s why I’m starting a new series this week, Fellow Friday (yes, a derivative of Twitter’s Follow Friday — or #FF on Twitter), where I will feature the work coming from a think tank you might not ordinarily see. It’ll mostly focus on those who work at the think tanks you rarely, or never, see in the media, but also those who are in the hidden dark corners within the think tanks relied on daily in the media.
So keep your eyes open for Fellow Friday and feel free to nominate your favorite media-scarce think tanker below.