More Sleaziness from the Monitor Group

It’s one thing to work with the Libyan government, under the guise of introducing its otherwise rapacious leaders to Western ideals. This is what the Monitor Group, the Cambridge-based consulting firm, with plenty of Harvard professors on the payroll, said it wanted to do when it struck a $3 million deal a few years back with Libya and President Muammar Qaddafi and his family. A lot of people, including other Harvard professors, now detest that deal, especially given the Qaddafis’ recent tendency to, you know, kill their own citizens.

But for me the old arrangement between Monitor and the Qaddafis isn’t the real issue: If you’re a Harvard professor and you want to take a despot’s cash — offered in large part because of your cache as a Harvard professor — you have only to quiet your inner angels when you sleep at night. What I don’t like is the intellectual dishonesty on the part of the Monitor crew, once they’re in the public sphere. That phenomenon began in 2007, and it continues today.

In 2007, Harvard Professor Joseph Nye wrote a story for The New Republic about Qadaffi and Nye’s idea of “soft power“: projecting influence among other world leaders through attraction, and not coercion. Nye said that Qaddafi, a bully and a terrorist, was now a good guy. The story he published was a positive piece. But Nye failed to disclose to The New Republic that he’d been paid by Qaddafi to help enhance his image in the West. You see, Nye went to Libya, because he was on a consulting trip for the Monitor Group. When Mother Jones published news of Nye’s payment last month, former TNR editor Franklin Foer said, “If we had known that [Nye] was consulting for a firm paid by the [Libyan] government, we would not have run the story.”

In Nye’s defense, he says his first draft had a line about him being in Libya “at the invitation of the Monitor group,” a line that was cut from the published piece (and has, post-publication, been re-instated, per a TNR clarification). Still, saying you were in Libya at the invitation of anyone isn’t the same as saying you were paid by the Libyan government, so Foer’s response is understandable. That piece was Nye’s sleight of hand.

The same thing is still happening with Monitor guys. Benjamin Barber, another academic who went to Libya on Monitor’s dime, appeared April 4th on Eliot Spitzer’s new CNN show, In the Arena. He spent big chunks of the segment talking up Saif Qaddafi, Muamar’s son, a Western-educated but equally heinous Qaddafi. It took CNN’s David Gergen interjections to sort of re-establish reality. And then Gergen said, “Now we’ve discovered that his doctorate from the London School of Economics was a fraud,” and written by outsiders.

Who might those outsiders be? The Monitor Group. Did Barber disclose that on-air? No.