Readers of the Sunday Fairfax papers would have been shocked to learn that Senator Cory Bernardi, a Liberal, has financial ties with big tobacco, is linked to America’s National Rifle Association and has "apparently breached strict rules by failing to declare" those associations. After the initial report, two further stories quoted political enemies as saying the South Australian was ”unfit to chair” the senators’ interests committee.
One of the named organisations, the Heartland Institute, has now released a stinging rebuttal, which is published below. If the Fairfax in-house sleuths follow the same path that has so far produced no result in the case of Richard Ackland’s recent travesty of column, we might see a response in a week or two.
Why are the mistakes of a diminished newspaper important?
Well, there is an election coming and while the SMH and sister publications are free to take any editorial position they wish, what they are not supposed to do is abandon professional standards of accuracy and fact-checking, as the Heartland Institute charges.
Here is Heartland’s rebuttal:
“Ms. Jessica Wright, a ‘political correspondent’ for Australia’s The Sunday Age and the Sun-Herald, mentions The Heartland Institute several times in a piece titled “Abbott’s man under fire over extreme right lobbying“ in the January 27 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald.
“The article mostly attacks Australian Senator Cory Bernardi for being a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which Ms. Wright mischaracterizes as a ‘right-wing, pro-tobacco group.’ ALEC is in fact a bipartisan and highly respected organization of state elected officials in the U.S. Ms. Wright’s criticism simply parrots attacks on the group by left-liberal groups in the U.S. and has no validity.
“Ms. Wright refers to The Heartland Institute as ‘a sister pro-tobacco lobbying organisation and corporate member of ALEC.’ We are not ‘pro-tobacco,’ though Heartland spokespersons frequently question whether sound science and economics justify sky-high taxes and punitive smoking bans. For accurate information about The Heartland Institute’s work on tobacco control policy, please visit our Web site page about ’Smoker’s Rights.’
“The Heartland Institute also is not a lobbying organization, but rather an independent nonprofit research organization or ‘think tank.’ We address a wide range of issues and, like ALEC, focus on being a resource for state elected officials in the U.S. We are a nonprofit member of ALEC and our staff serves on several ALEC task forces.
“Ms. Wright reports that we paid for Senator Bernardi’s ‘accommodation and travel to the US on four separate occasions in 2010 and 2011.’ Our records show Sen. Bernardi attended two of our International Conferences on Climate Change, one in the U.S. and one in Sydney, and spoke at both of them. The Heartland Institute routinely reimburses travel expenses for elected officials and speakers at its conferences.
“Ms. Wright claims The Heartland Institute ‘recently ran a two-day conference in the US entitled “Can Tobacco Make You Healthier?” ‘ This is bizarre, inaccurate, and plainly intended to defame The Heartland Institute. The event she apparently is referring to was a 75-minute workshop titled ‘Can Tobacco Cure Smoking?’ which Heartland helped organize at ALEC’s annual meeting in Salt Lake City last year.
“The speaker, Prof. Brad Rodu, is one of the country’s (indeed, the world’s) leading authorities on the use of smokeless tobacco products to encourage smokers to smoke less or stop altogether. Given that message, it would be more accurate to say that Heartland sponsored a seminar on ‘how to stop smoking.’
“There are many important issues that would benefit from lively and informed debate. It’s regrettable that Ms. Wright chose instead to devote an article to muddying the water with false and misleading claims.”