An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Google-Funded Think Tank Fires Scholar Who Criticized Tech Giant


This summer, after a seven-year investigation, European antitrust regulators hit Google with a whopping $2.7 billion fine. The EU judgment found that Google used its market dominance to unfairly favor search results for its own services over its competitors. One of those who applauded the record fine was writer Barry Lynn. For years, he's been sounding the alarm that tech giants have way too much influence. Well, now, Barry Lynn is out of a job. He says that's because the think tank he used to work for it was partially funded by Google. Barry Lynn joins us in the studio now. Good morning.

BARRY LYNN: Good morning. Thanks for having me on.

CHANG: Thank you for coming in. Well, first, let's explain to everyone that you worked for New America, a Washington-based think tank. And Google's Eric Schmidt was New America's chairman until last year. You posted a statement praising the EU for penalizing Google, so what happened next? Tell us the story.

LYNN: Well, what happened next was within about two, three hours, I got a call from the head of the think tank, Anne-Marie Slaughter. And Anne-Marie said that Eric Schmidt, Google and the other folks at Google were very upset about this and they were pulling all of their support, including support for my program that was coming through, Schmidt Family Foundation. And that - this was a big problem. Two days later, I was called back in to meet with Anne-Marie, and I was told that my entire program must leave New America within two months.

CHANG: Now, New America released full emails between Slaughter and you. And in these emails, dated in June, Slaughter explicitly says that her decision to let you go was, quote, "in no way based on the content of your work." She goes on to write, you have made your views on platform monopolies clear in many ways over recent years, and we have featured those views the way we feature the views of any other programs. What do you say to that? She says it's not based on what you've said about Google.

LYNN: I've been at New America for 15 years. My Open Markets program has been there for seven or eight years at this point. We have, in all of those years, only had two problems. And that was last year and June of 2016, when we hosted an event in which Senator Warren spoke about the platform monopolies, including Google - naming Google by, you know, specifically. And then this year, when we named Google again. Those are the only two times we've ever had problems, and so I think there's a pretty clear pattern. And the other pattern is what we see from the timeline, which was that the event happened on that - which we praised the actions by Margrethe Vestager, the head of EG Comp (ph) in Europe. That was on June 27. And two days later, we were shown the door.

CHANG: Slaughter also says, though, that she - in these emails that I'm referring to - that she's given you enough chances, quote, "to change your ways without sufficient result." What is she referring ways? What ways should you be changing?

LYNN: I, frankly, have no idea what she's talking about. And, you know, what you've seen there is one side of the emails. There's a whole bunch of other emails. And, you know, there's - we can go through all of the emails. I think there's a very clear pattern in the emails. But the thing is it's not just the emails. It's, you know, things that were said. And we know the - that Google called up. And people from Google called up. And this was a pattern that took place over years.

CHANG: You've been quoted as as saying that other think tanks out there are scared of angering Google. Give me examples.

LYNN: Well, you know, don't want to name particular think tanks, but there are a number of think tanks in this town that receive funding from Google. Now, as you receive funding, you know, funding is - it's a tough thing to keep. You know, it's a pretty straightforward story in this town that if corporations have a hold within a think tank, it - the people in that think tank are going to be less likely to speak out against that particular corporation.

CHANG: All right. That's writer Barry Lynn. Thank you for joining. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.