Looking into the Weird Fox News Defense of Dragas

In what may stand as the sole defense of UVA Rector Helen Dragas published by a major media outlet, Fox News today published an opinion piece by University of Maryland professor Peter Morici. What’s most notable about it is the extent to which Morici parrots the language that Dragas has started using (specifically, describing President Teresa Sullivan as an “incrementalist”). That seems like a funny coincidence. Speculating that there might be a connection, I asked on Twitter if anybody knew of a connection between Morici and Dragas’ PR firm, Hill and Knowlton. It wasn’t long before I got a great response from Thomas Talhelm, pointing out that Accuracy in Media called out Morici in 2005 in an article about astroturfing:

Sheldon Rampton of the liberal Center for Media & Democracy monitors the public relations industry. He says some corporations are trying to smuggle their views into the media as objective news. He cites the case of U.S. Steel company Nucor Corp., which hired Peter Morici, a business professor at the University of Maryland, to argue in favor of steel tariffs. Morici was quoted in scores of newspaper articles and wrote two dozen letters to editors. In most cases, his role as a paid consultant was not disclosed.

He says that one of the most common tactics of PR firms is to ghost-write editorials and get experts to sign them, sometimes with embarrassing results.

There’s no easy way to know whether Hill and Knowlton has paid Morici to write this article—though I have asked him—but it does seem like a pretty reasonable explanation.

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