Google, FTC, and Advocacy Journalism That Stinks Like Landfill

Mac apologist Daniel Eran Dilger posted one of his lopsided-advocacy stories around 8:30 p.m. PDT last night; I saw the ridiculous headline, “Google News buries news of Google’s FTC investigation under Daniel Lyons fluff”, about two hours later, when scanning my RSS feeds. The story within is even worse. Don’t bother rewarding the author with pageviews. Notice I don’t link to the story. (Since we have two Daniels here and out of friendliness I use first names, I choose for this story to refer to Mr. Dilger as DED.)

Here’s the quick recap: DED refers to a Daniel Lyons opinion that ran in an ongoing Washington Post series. I happened to see it last night: “Five myths about Google“. I could have picked better myths, but these aren’t bad. The Post story is dateline March 20, 2015. The previous night, the Wall Street Journal blew out a big scoop regarding the Federal Trade Commission antitrust investigation into Google that closed in January 2013, finding no case. The Journal asserts cause championed by staff but ignored by Commissioners.  Blech! The WSJ report is suspicious as all bloody hell, as I explain in March 19 analysis: “What is Behind the Journal’s Big Google-FTC Scoop?” 

Honestly, if you read nothing else about this Google-FTC thing make it my analysis. Because in context, the Journal’s followup story, “Google Avoided FTC Probe but Others Loom“, makes the first even less credible. Timing of the scoop, from three year-old leaked documents beret of context, reads hot for Google competitors and lacks any authoritative legal analysis. It feels to me like manipulation rather than good journalism. The story comes at a time when it could conceivably influence the European Union’s Google antitrust case.

Then consider the source: News Corp. owns the Wall Street Journal, and both entities likely would benefit by any means that trustbusters could crimp Google. Conflict of interest is unavoidable, with Rupert Miurdoch and Company putting up paywalls that Google search can circumvent and that also enables—some people might argue encourages—content theft. The second Journal story linked above is example. By Googling the headline, I could read the story on the WSJ site for free, when direct link is blocked to me.

Now let’s circle back to the DED story, which laps up the Journal’s Google is eviler than Satan accusations like my cat sucking down chicken livers. Let me give you wo important excerpts so you won’t feel too tempted to read the original: The dek:

After the embarrassing leak of a U.S. Federal Trade Commission investigation that described how Google shifted around its search results to harm competition, Google News has shifted its search results to harm journalism, promoting instead a fluff piece glorifying Google, written by Daniel Lyons.

From within:

Google News is—as this goes to press—hiding all legitimate news of Google behind Lyons’ paper thin, propaganda fluff piece. Lyons, most famous for mocking Steve Jobs in an anonymously written ‘Fake SJ’ caricature blog, has written enthusiastically about Google before, including his participation in the circle of Google Glass Explorers tasked with writing accolades about that failed product in the perpetual ‘beta’ it struggled through before being canceled.

Those are mighty big accusations. Take a look at the screenshot, though, where DED’s story places third in the Google News tech section. The only thing I see Google hiding behind is the story accusing it of hiding behind. Kind of doesn’t make sense if Google games the search results to cover its ass, right? Looks like organic placement to me. Maybe I misunderstand Google News, since I am not a regular reader, but wouldn’t Daniel Lyon’s Myth story appear higher than the Journal’s if more popular? Doesn’t that also apply here as shown in the screenshot, with DED’s favorable visibility?

I suppose that DED and other conspiracy preachers could accuse Google of promoting the story to discredit it. If you really believe someone at Google manipulates search such—ah, frak it, there’s no sarcastic statement I can make that is good enough. DED and I, and people advocating irrational theories, live in different universes.

Editor’s Note: Wall Street Journal finally posted the full FTC report on March 24, 2015.