Episode 77 – Disclosures, Conflicts of Interest, and Diplomacy

Disclosures, Conflicts of Interest, and Diplomacy Crypto Critics' Corner

Today Bennett and Cas discuss a recent phenomena in regard to media personalities either not doing due diligence on sponsors or pretending that any criticism must be coming from a place of malicious intent. This episode was produced by Griffin Davis.

In this episode Bennett Tomlin and Cas Piancey discuss conflicts of interest in podcasting, ad reads, monetization, and journalism.

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English Transcript:

00;00;05;10 - 00;00;11;29
Cas Piancey
Welcome back, everyone. I am Cas Piancey, and I'm joined, as usual, by my partner in crime, Mr. Bennett Tomlin. How are you today?

00;00;12;27 - 00;00;14;06
Bennett Tomlin
I'm doing well, Cas. How are you?

00;00;15;13 - 00;00;38;20
Cas Piancey
Cover the advertisement I accidentally just did for a certain donut company, but other than that, I'm fine. It's early morning here, and I am drinking some coffee today. We're talking about something that happened. I want to say a God. Now, a week and a half, two weeks ago, something like that. We're going to be talking about a couple well-known media personalities.

00;00;38;20 - 00;01;03;14
Cas Piancey
Is what I will call them? I don't know. I guess. Kara Swisher is a journalist. Scott Galloway is a professor at, I believe, NYU, and we are going to talk about them and a bit of a weird I don't know how to explain it. I'm not sure how to describe what that was. And yeah, maybe you can kind of explain to our audience what happened.

00;01;04;06 - 00;01;30;01
Bennett Tomlin
On a recent episode of their podcast. They did an ad read in the ad read they did was for a service that enables people to invest their retirement savings through tax advantage, retirement savings in a variety of cryptocurrencies, some more legitimate like Bitcoin or Ethereum and some much less legitimate like Axie Infinity the notorious play to earn game.

00;01;30;21 - 00;01;58;12
Bennett Tomlin
And this was a very controversial ad read because like we talked about when John Reed Stark was on the US Department of Labor, like issued a very specific warning about investing retirement funds in Bitcoin due to its volatility and the risks. And so on the heels of that, this came across to many as Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway endorsing putting your retirement savings into cryptocurrency.

00;01;58;20 - 00;02;35;12
Cas Piancey
The initial retort from Kara Swisher was something along the lines of cryptocurrency is here to stay. If you don't like it, good for you. I don't really care. I'm going to keep doing these advertisements. We're going to keep doing these ad reads. If that means we lost you as a listener, oh, well, I don't really give a damn, which, you know, look, I want to say that I previously when we started our podcast, I definitely came out swinging at some, some people who were like, Well, I think it's a little bit too quiet or I would like to see you guys do this, or maybe you could try to I would come out swinging and

00;02;35;12 - 00;02;57;04
Cas Piancey
try to like defend our choices. I've, I've softened up a bit on that and I think it's great and it's actually helped us immensely to listen to our, to listen to our listeners and let their criticisms, but also what they like about our show. Listen to that to help us grow and build our show to be better right.

00;02;57;04 - 00;03;12;09
Cas Piancey
And I think seeing that response from her was really like, I found it hard to believe. Like, I was like, wow, not only do you clearly not care about your listeners and their opinions but it felt so obviously like money over money over people.

00;03;12;12 - 00;03;37;22
Bennett Tomlin
I guess podcasts are in a really weird place in the market. Right? The primary avenue available for people to easily monetize their podcast is to do these ad reads. The fundamental issue with doing any of these ad reads is your audience hears you say these words and they hear you saying them like there's no real separation between you as the podcast or you as the journalist in the material you're promoting.

00;03;38;00 - 00;04;02;08
Bennett Tomlin
It's like fundamentally the same problem. It's like local news station running their bullshit sponsored content, right? Or for that matter, the New York Times running its bullshit sponsored content, right? Is that when you take these things and you make them kind of look like news and you integrate them into the news, you're taking advantage of the fact that a meaningful portion of your audience is going to take that as an endorsement, is going to treat it as like part of the rest of the material.

00;04;02;29 - 00;04;35;00
Bennett Tomlin
And so you get into this really challenging ethical area here where like the things you endorse and the things that you advertise end up associated with you. And I think that there's a lot of people like Kara who don't think that's fair. They imagine an age of journalism back like in the old days when like timing still had a firewall between editorial and the business side, right where the journalists could follow a story.

00;04;35;00 - 00;04;55;11
Bennett Tomlin
There'd be ads run near the story, but they're distant enough from the process those ads are coming from that they can just do the thing and pretend that they have no knowledge of what the ads are. Right. But that is like really no longer possible with the way these companies and stuff work, which is put a lot of people in some really uncomfortable situations.

00;04;55;11 - 00;05;22;06
Cas Piancey
And it's worth it at this point discussing our own situation, which is we have been doing this podcast for over a year now, and there are no ads, there's no sponsorship, there's none of this stuff. And I would say that that's because we care so much and it's because we're so great. The reality is that we fear the idea that we're going to get advertisements and sponsorships from companies that we don't like, that we don't trust, and that we don't want to do that.

00;05;22;06 - 00;05;49;00
Cas Piancey
We don't want to present ourselves as endorsing these companies and to to the people who listen to our show and expect us as skeptics, as cynics, as critics to not just jump into anything and be like, Yeah, we're going to suggest you buy this thing, or maybe you put your retirement into this thing, or We love gold or, you know, whatever, whatever it may be.

00;05;49;19 - 00;06;13;11
Cas Piancey
We're trying to avoid that as much as we can. And it's really hard. I don't, I don't I, I want to make it clear to everybody that, that, of course we would like to be making money. I, of course, we've seen little cheat sheets of what some other podcasts are able to make by per quarter based on the ads that they, they sell.

00;06;14;10 - 00;06;30;12
Cas Piancey
And this is from a few years ago. So maybe the prices have gone down. Maybe they've gone up. Who knows? Who knows what the reality on the ground is these days. But all I can say is that, like, if those numbers are accurate, we could be making significantly more if we just didn't give a damn about that stuff.

00;06;30;12 - 00;06;49;23
Cas Piancey
And and so this was an eye opening moment for me, I guess seeing Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway, who are two of the biggest names in tech, kind of just blowing this off, is like who who gives a shit dude, this is what we do. And I yeah, I found it surprising.

00;06;50;09 - 00;07;10;04
Bennett Tomlin
I didn't because they're right. Who gives a shit this is what they do, right? Like and we're in a very privileged position. Like, we both are able to afford to do this for free because we've got money coming in from other places. We don't depend on crypto critics corner in order to survive.

00;07;10;04 - 00;07;20;18
Cas Piancey
I think that Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway don't have jobs that are able to give them the money and compensation required to be able to do their podcasts for free. That's extra money on top, I think. Let's be real.

00;07;20;25 - 00;07;43;06
Bennett Tomlin
Yeah, yeah. But like, I imagine because this podcast is being produced under the New York Times brand right now, I think their podcast. And so I'm sure they've got certain contractual commitments they've agreed to. Right? And like in the broad scope of things, no one really does care, right? Like a few online weirdos on Twitter care. But that's not a good judge of how the world views an issue.

00;07;43;15 - 00;08;06;26
Bennett Tomlin
If you if you base your opinion on how the world views an issue and how weirdos on Twitter react, you're going to have a very skewed perception, right? Every podcast does this. And like I mentioned before, timing tore down their firewall. New York Times does sponsored content. Every news station is doing integrated sponsored content like the Forbes has totally cashed in on their brand using their contributor program.

00;08;07;02 - 00;08;09;19
Bennett Tomlin
Like every single one of these things is compromising.

00;08;10;00 - 00;08;36;06
Cas Piancey
Just because other brands are losing their reputations. I don't know what to say about this stuff. It's very weird to me that a lot of outlets, media personalities, kind of just these these corporations are operating in such a way that they're entirely putting reputation aside. Reputation does not matter. The number one goal is money. And it's like an illness in our society.

00;08;36;06 - 00;08;56;11
Cas Piancey
I feel like it's it's like it's it's just a sign of the times. Like nobody it's it's short term thinking over long term thinking. And that's what you and I have been consistently reminding ourselves of. Like, Well, if we want to do this show in five years or ten years, if we want to still exist, who knows? Maybe we don't.

00;08;56;11 - 00;09;02;18
Cas Piancey
But if we do, we can't tarnish our reputation by taking on any advertiser yeah.

00;09;02;18 - 00;09;32;17
Bennett Tomlin
I think you're kind of getting at what's the core issue here, right? Is that broadly across society, our remaining institutions are very rarely engaged in like the work necessary to build and maintain trust, reputation and integrity. And much more often are creating products that implicitly or explicitly cash in on the historic reputation. Right. That's foundationally why Forbes launched their contributor program.

00;09;32;17 - 00;09;56;06
Bennett Tomlin
It was a way for them to basically sell their reputation to the highest bidder. Other ones have kept some greater degree of separation and some higher degree of plausible deniability. That The New York Times likes to really flirt with the lines here. Right? Like even when they did their sponsored content integration for like the second season of Orange is the New Black the reporting it was based around was like legitimate, high quality reporting.

00;09;56;13 - 00;10;15;04
Bennett Tomlin
But at the end of the day, it was still like sponsored content for Netflix. You're integrating into your newspaper right? And I think this is also kind of the challenge you see with any new media brand that launches. And we talked about this a little bit way back in episode eight, and we were talking about Coinbase Media right is it's really hard to monetize journalism.

00;10;15;12 - 00;10;41;27
Bennett Tomlin
It's really hard to want to make people read like thoughtful and nuanced takes on issues. Right. And this becomes especially true when you've taken like investor VC money and there's this pressure to try to get to a point where there is profits and money more quickly, because what you're talking about is true. Building up that trust and maintaining that reputation takes such a long time.

00;10;41;27 - 00;11;26;04
Bennett Tomlin
It is seen as a bad investment by many of the people who matter in the industry. I think a lot of what it comes down to is that a lot of people who start covering crypto implicitly or explicitly accept certain assumptions from the cryptocurrency industry, like remember when Roose was basically trying to say, like, journalists need to be allowed to own crypto and benefit from the increase in value in crypto, because otherwise how were they supposed to cover crypto or Larry Cermak, who runs research at the Block, was basically saying that it's not possible for them to recruit talented journalists who understand the industry if they were to have missions against like owning cryptocurrency and

00;11;26;04 - 00;11;53;11
Bennett Tomlin
doing that kind of thing, or like Coin Desk was working on a way to start giving equity grants from DCG to some of like their editors and executives and stuff like that. And so across all of those, you see examples of how once people start covering cryptocurrency and seeing these people make all this money from cryptocurrency, they become increasingly convinced that they should be allowed to participate in that.

00;11;53;11 - 00;12;17;29
Cas Piancey
OK, so this you brought up another interesting moment, which I think is worth bringing up since we're talking about Car Switcher and Scott Galloway here, which is, oh, man, I'm going to try not to get a little flustered thinking about this because it actually bothers me the way that he spoke to Molly White, a guest of the show and friend of the show.

00;12;18;09 - 00;12;43;02
Cas Piancey
Good friend of the show. He went on Scott Galloway, his podcast, and he compared he did this thing called The Late Comers Guide to Crypto for The New York Times Skeptics and critics basically said, yo, man, this is a how to buy cryptocurrency. This is it's a shill. What you're doing here is pretty much a shell. It is not a it is not like an objective, fair look at the cryptocurrency industry and ecosystem.

00;12;43;02 - 00;12;56;28
Cas Piancey
He didn't like that. He didn't like that. That was the response. And that Molly I think it was Molly who got a bunch of critics and skeptics to write like wrote the reality of the situation next to all the shilling that Kevin Roose was doing.

00;12;57;01 - 00;12;59;09
Bennett Tomlin
Which full disclosure I did contribute to.

00;12;59;25 - 00;13;31;25
Cas Piancey
Fair enough. I can understand why an author might not appreciate that. But he then went on this Scott Galloway podcast and expressed that he thought his cryptocurrency kind of shilling article was essentially the Wikipedia entry for cryptocurrency and Molly. Molly White like does work. She volunteers for Wikipedia, and she was like, No, this is nothing like the Wikipedia entry for cryptocurrency.

00;13;32;02 - 00;13;51;15
Cas Piancey
And he got offended by that. Kevin Roose, who's on paternal paternal leave, came back to argue with Molly White about the efficacy of his of his article and to suggest that there's something else going on. Whatever that means. I don't know what he meant by that.

00;13;51;16 - 00;14;12;06
Bennett Tomlin
My intuition is that Kevin didn't particularly mean much and was just lashing out because his ego was wounded. Because, like 20 people came in and did a line by line response to his article, which as a writer, I feel good to just have people go, No, this is wrong. No, this is wrong. No, this is wrong. This is deceitful, this is unclear.

00;14;12;06 - 00;14;24;20
Bennett Tomlin
This is wrong. That that can't feel good. Right. And so I don't think he actually believes there's some like big fight paying off Molly. He's just mad and lashing out on Twitter.

00;14;27;00 - 00;14;35;08
Bennett Tomlin
But yeah, you're right. There is it is hard to cover cryptocurrency. Well, a lot of people do it really poorly, I think.

00;14;35;08 - 00;15;00;28
Cas Piancey
I'm not even trying to suggest, look, if if Kara and Scott Galloway, if Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway want to endorse cryptocurrencies and they love cryptocurrencies, I don't I don't take issue with that and I don't. And if Kevin Roose wants to tell everyone that NAFTA's and cryptocurrencies are the greatest thing in the world, that's fine. I again, I do not take issue with that.

00;15;01;08 - 00;15;32;27
Cas Piancey
If that is going to be your role, you're expressing a bias in such a way that it makes it hard to pretend like what you're doing is news anymore. I don't find the late comers guide to cryptocurrency to be news. I don't think it's it's anywhere near news. And when I try to think of what is news in cryptocurrency and digital assets in tech, maybe people hate to hear this, but the news is usually not the greatest stuff in the world.

00;15;33;10 - 00;16;01;22
Cas Piancey
That's why it's news it's news because something surprising and usually not great happens. So if all you're going to report on is kind of people getting rich and all of the good shit that's happening in a new and upcoming industry, while I can appreciate that that there's room for that, if you're not reporting any of the bad stuff simultaneously and you're not like you're not trying to break stories about some of the there's so many stories.

00;16;01;22 - 00;16;19;21
Cas Piancey
Let's be real. There's so many stories in this industry to break Thank God for ZachXBT on Twitter because because nobody else is doing the work. These are the people who should be doing the work. You're a journalist at The New York Times. Why aren't you doing what Zach does? That's that's your job.

00;16;20;09 - 00;16;47;11
Bennett Tomlin
Yes, it certainly should be. We got kind of close to this in episode eight, but I felt like I didn't really have the words for it. Now I really worry about more and more of like things that look to me like journalism or look like they should be journalism. Like people honestly pursuing the truth and trying to cover these important things get more and more co-opted and pushed into kind of like this broader media umbrella.

00;16;47;11 - 00;17;16;22
Bennett Tomlin
And for, like, these more like broadly media companies rather than news or journalism companies right. And when this happens, you just end up with this expectation of creating kind of the word content which can be monetized, sold, advertise, done, which is kind of antithetical to news. And like when your goal is to create things that make money, conflicts of interest no longer seem like such a big deal.

00;17;17;02 - 00;17;32;25
Bennett Tomlin
Loops back to Kara Swisher, unfortunately, because during this whole thing, people pointed out that on a podcast a while ago, she had mentioned that she had ten Bitcoin at one point kills them and she is is.

00;17;32;25 - 00;17;51;27
Cas Piancey
Excuse me by the way, because because the entire argument is so typical for what we see in cryptocurrency and we've seen it from a lot of journalists, we've seen it from a lot of old school, oh geez. Who've been around since 20, 13 or whatever. Like it happens all the time. But please, sorry go on.

00;17;52;14 - 00;18;01;12
Bennett Tomlin
Yeah. So she mentioned on this podcast, I remember this podcast, it was just one of the Vox Media ones, I think that she owned ten Bitcoins also.

00;18;01;12 - 00;18;02;05
Cas Piancey
Tweeted about it.

00;18;02;08 - 00;18;07;29
Bennett Tomlin
And yes. And the host asked her if this was an ethics issue with the kind of Casey Newton.

00;18;08;10 - 00;18;27;17
Cas Piancey
I believe her response was her co-host on that Vox or whatever podcast. And he, he didn't ask her. He told her specifically that owning Bitcoin was breaching the ethics terms for Vox. He, he told her straight up.

00;18;27;29 - 00;18;45;21
Bennett Tomlin
At which point she decided to explain that she wasn't actually sure where the Bitcoin were. Maybe they're in a storage unit. She's not 100% sure she bought them when they were super cheap and now they're just somewhere. Probably, maybe. And that was a really unsatisfying answer from a.

00;18;46;07 - 00;19;11;26
Cas Piancey
Really unsatisfying answer from anyone. And I'll tell you for a couple reasons why. One, if indeed she has that ten, those ten Bitcoin, I don't know unless you have $100 million like that's a lot of money. I can't imagine you're just like me. I don't need it. Who cares? No one thinks that way. No one. So I don't buy that for that reason.

00;19;13;05 - 00;19;37;15
Cas Piancey
I also don't buy it because she she tries to claim like, oh yeah, I've had ten Bitcoin they're probably on a hard drive actually. They're probably lost. And so what I think that does what that allows her to give herself is like I've been involved with Bitcoin forever. Like I know all about Bitcoin. I totally get it. I've owned it for a long time.

00;19;37;15 - 00;20;05;03
Cas Piancey
I'm an OG. She can make those claims now without providing any fucking proof at all. So it gives you, it gives you the ability to be to like make the claim that you've been involved in Bitcoin in terms of ownership for a very long time and it makes it sound like you held it and you have all this cash still because you chose because you made the decision to just I'm just going to throw that hard drive to the side and you know, I'll get back to that wallet when I need it.

00;20;05;03 - 00;20;23;29
Cas Piancey
Like, come on, man. It's, it's not true. There's, there's no reality to it. If you have it, you should you should definitely. It's like like Casey Newton was saying, there's ethics reasons. You have to disclose that. Then if you do own it, you have to disclose it. And if it's lost, then you should stop saying that you have ten Bitcoin.

00;20;24;19 - 00;20;38;22
Bennett Tomlin
Yeah. And you should talk about what you learned about how hard it is to keep a stock of ten Bitcoin and the risks that can come up and how you can end up losing it. Because otherwise you sound kind of like the guy who got his tax bill and said, oh, no, I had a boating accident this weekend.

00;20;39;23 - 00;21;02;13
Cas Piancey
I know. It probably just it feels like we're like personally attacking journalists here, but that really is not what we're trying to do. I think I think both of us were pretty frustrated from these threads that we've been seeing. We're pretty frustrated from the way people have been kind of discussing ethics, morals, objectivity. I want to be clear.

00;21;02;20 - 00;21;29;00
Cas Piancey
I think my views have softened a bit in terms of honestly, I think the best in the cryptocurrency industry, the best possible newsroom you could have, would be a newsroom that would be like 5050 divided corners and no corners I think what no corners are much better at than corners is archiving and logging this history and making sure everybody understands the history and why the history is important.

00;21;29;14 - 00;21;57;09
Cas Piancey
While co-owners love to move on really, really fast to the next project, but they often understand the intricacy and complexities better than a no coiner might, right, because they are interacting with the platforms and stuff. So. So I understand the need for some journalists and some media personalities to either interact with or use this stuff. I also think if you want to speculate and gamble, that's fine too.

00;21;57;09 - 00;22;16;05
Cas Piancey
I'm not upset about that either. I just think there's biases. There is. I think you and I do a good job of expressing our biases, our biases, like we you and I talk about talk about being know pointers, talk about being critics, talk about being skeptics. It's it's not it's this.

00;22;16;22 - 00;22;17;10
Bennett Tomlin
It's right there in the title.

00;22;17;10 - 00;22;42;26
Cas Piancey
It's it's and and we make that clear. I think that's I was trying to think about it yesterday and and Hunter Thompson came to my mind because what he did was he embraced all of his confusing biases. Right? Like he was on drugs. He was totally insane. And he would he would tell you, like, I'm seeing a hallucination or whatever.

00;22;43;15 - 00;22;58;19
Cas Piancey
But you trusted him because of that. That's why you trust Hunter Thompson when he's telling you these stories, because he's already out the gate telling you like I'm fucked up. I don't know what's going on, and here's what I'm seeing. And then you're like, well, at least he's honest. At least he's honest, and he's sharing that with me.

00;22;58;28 - 00;23;18;24
Cas Piancey
I feel like a lot of this stuff comes off as not just dishonest, but, like, diplomatic you know, like walking that line of, like, I don't really need to tell you the truth because the truth is relative, right? And you're like, Oh, no, your job is to make sure the truth isn't relative.

00;23;19;06 - 00;23;41;03
Bennett Tomlin
Yeah. That's actually a pretty big softening of your stance over the last several years because you used to be sure pretty strongly that journalists covering crypto shouldn't own crypto. I certainly agree with you that journalists covering crypto should be able to use cryptocurrency and so that means they need to own enough that they can do interactions, interact with these contracts, try different things.

00;23;41;19 - 00;24;03;23
Bennett Tomlin
I am not opposed to that. I do still get worried about people who are invested in crypto and covering crypto for the same reason. I get worried about people who are invested in specific stocks and covering those stocks. Is that once you add in that financial incentive, things get messy. It's much harder to maintain the orientation towards truth.

00;24;04;06 - 00;24;08;04
Cas Piancey
I think that mostly covers it. I don't know if there's anything else that you want to add.

00;24;08;25 - 00;24;44;09
Bennett Tomlin
Yeah, I mean, I think what I want to add to close this out is that the individuals we're discussing, we're really not trying to come at them specifically. All the people we're discussing have done good and valuable work. Kevin, Kara, Scott, all of them have contributed in valuable ways to like important things. It's just that these incentives get really perverse and that when you're in this position of trust, using that position of trust to endorse things like this, gets really messy and can put your audience, your listeners and the people who trust you to try to find the truth in a really unfortunate position.

00;24;44;18 - 00;25;24;27
Cas Piancey
Yeah. And I think it's important to understand that when you read ad, when you read copy for a platform that might be doing some weird, shady, not appropriate shit, you should take your time, pause, reflect, and realize that when your voice is the one that's saying that copy, people think it's you endorsing it. So while I saw that Kara and it was largely just Kara didn't give a damn what people were saying about this, this copy read and, and how grossed out they were by it.

00;25;25;15 - 00;25;34;11
Cas Piancey
I think it's worth reflecting on and that she didn't take that time and hopefully she is now hopefully she's taken that time now and it's thought about this a little bit more.

00;25;34;20 - 00;25;45;15
Bennett Tomlin
She should probably also check that storage unit just, you know, find out if there's hundreds of thousands of dollars of Bitcoin, you know, hanging out in your storage unit. That would be an important thing for you to do.

00;25;46;22 - 00;26;07;15
Cas Piancey
But anyway, I think that's going to do it for this episode of Crypto Critic's Corner. This was, of course, sponsored by Do Kwon and Luna two. If you guys are interested, please go out there. No, no, no, no, no. Do not, do not. This is not financial advice. Never ever buy anything that Do Kwon touches or Luna to take care.

00;26;07;15 - 00;26;08;00
Cas Piancey
Everybody.

One response to “Episode 77 – Disclosures, Conflicts of Interest, and Diplomacy”

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