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Report: Academic Dismissed From Think Tank After Criticizing Megadonor Google

President and CEO of New America Anne-Marie Slaughter / Getty Images
President and CEO of New America Anne-Marie Slaughter / Getty Images
• August 30, 2017 12:01 pm

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A scholar at New America Foundation was shown the door after he criticized Google, one of the organization's largest donors.

New America scholar Barry Lynn, director of the Open Markets initiative, posted a press release in June that praised the European Commission's decision to levy Google a €2.42 billion fine for violating antitrust regulations, the New York Times reported.

"The Open Markets Team congratulates European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager and the European competition authority for this important decision," Lynn wrote. "By requiring that Google give equal treatment to rival services instead of privileging its own, Vestager is protecting the free flow of information and commerce upon which all democracies depend."

The press release soon disappeared from New America's website, only to be reposted hours later. The removal came after Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc., contacted Lynn's bosses to complain, the Times reported.

The statement disappeared from New America's website, only to be reposted without explanation a few hours later. But word of Mr. Schmidt's displeasure rippled through New America, which employs more than 200 people, including dozens of researchers, writers, and scholars, most of whom work in sleek Washington offices where the main conference room is called the "Eric Schmidt Ideas Lab." The episode left some people concerned that Google intended to discontinue funding, while others worried whether the think tank could truly be independent if it had to worry about offending its donors.

The New America Foundation has received more than $21 million from Google, Eric Schmidt, and his family's foundation since the think tank's founding in 1999. The funding has helped to establish New America as an "elite voice in policy debates on the American left," according to the Times.

A few days after the release was posted, New America president Anne-Marie Slaughter called Lynn to her office and informed the scholar of his dismissal. The "time has come for Open Markets and New America to part ways," Slaughter said in an email.

Slaughter insisted to Lynn that the decision was "in no way based on the content of your work," but also noted he was "imperiling the institution as a whole."

The incident was not the first time Lynn received blowback for criticizing the tech giant. Lynn received a terse email from Slaughter a year earlier when he organized an event deemed critical of tech giants. Slaughter, a former Princeton dean and Hillary Clinton staffer, said at the time Google was concerned it had not been informed of the event and that its views were not going to be represented.

"We are in the process of trying to expand our relationship with Google on some absolutely key points," Slaughter wrote to Lynn. "Just THINK about how you are imperiling funding for others."

Both Google and the New America Foundation deny Lynn's charges that funding had anything to do with his dismissal. The nonprofit claims his departure was "mutual."

"New America financial supporters have no influence or control over the research design, methodology, analysis, or findings of New America research projects, nor do they have influence or control over the content of educational programs and communications efforts," a spokesman told the Times.

Published under: Google, Think Tanks