TED responds to criticism

This is the talk which TED earlier declined to post:

And this is Chris Anderson’s explanation about what happened:

Today TED was subject to a story so misleading it would be funny… except it successfully launched an aggressive online campaign against us.

The National Journal alleged we had censored a talk because we considered the issue of inequality “too hot to handle.” The story ignited a firestorm of outrage on Reddit, Huffington Post and elsewhere. We were accused of being cowards. We were in the pay of our corporate partners. We were the despicable puppets of the Republican party.

Here’s what actually happened.

At TED this year, an attendee pitched a 3-minute audience talk on inequality. The talk tapped into a really important and timely issue. But it framed the issue in a way that was explicitly partisan. And it included a number of arguments that were unconvincing, even to those of us who supported his overall stance. The audience at TED who heard it live (and who are often accused of being overly enthusiastic about left-leaning ideas) gave it, on average, mediocre ratings.

At TED we post one talk a day on our home page. We’re drawing from a pool of 250+ that we record at our own conferences each year and up to 10,000 recorded at the various TEDx events around the world, not to mention our other conference partners. Our policy is to post only talks that are truly special. And we try to steer clear of talks that are bound to descend into the same dismal partisan head-butting people can find every day elsewhere in the media.

We discussed internally and ultimately told the speaker we did not plan to post. He did not react well. He had hired a PR firm to promote the talk to MoveOn and others, and the PR firm warned us that unless we posted he would go to the press and accuse us of censoring him. We again declined and this time I wrote him and tried gently to explain in detail why I thought his talk was flawed.

So he forwarded portions of the private emails to a reporter and the National Journal duly bit on the story. And it was picked up by various other outlets.

And a non-story about a talk not being chosen, because we believed we had better ones, somehow got turned into a scandal about censorship. Which is like saying that if I call the New York Times and they turn down my request to publish an op-ed by me, they’re censoring me.

For the record, pretty much everyone at TED, including me, worries a great deal about the issue of rising inequality. We’ve carried talks on it in the past, like this one from Richard Wilkinson. We’d carry more in the future if someone can find a way of framing the issue that is convincing and avoids being needlessly partisan in tone.

Also, for the record, we have never sought advice from any of our advertisers on what we carry editorially. To anyone who knows how TED operates, or who has observed the noncommercial look and feel of the website, the notion that we would is laughable. We only care about one thing: finding the best speakers and the best ideas we can, and sharing them with the world. For free. I’ve devoted the rest of my life to doing this, and honestly, it’s pretty disheartening to have motives and intentions taken to task so viciously by people who simply don’t know the facts.

One takeaway for us is that we’re considering at some point posting the full archive from future conferences (somewhere away from the home page). Perhaps this would draw the sting from the accusations of censorship. Here, for starters, is the talk concerned. You can judge for yourself…

No doubt it will now, ironically, get stupendous viewing numbers and spark a magnificent debate, and then the conspiracy theorists will say the whole thing was a set-up!

OK… thanks for listening. Over and out.

The way Anderson tells the story it sounds simply like a case of someone getting turned down at an audition and then not being willing to accept a rejection. But given that Anderson describes this as an account of “what actually happened,” he fails to explain what appears to be a key component of the story: that he had written to Hanauer telling him that his talk “probably ranks as one of the most politically controversial talks we’ve ever run, and we need to be really careful when” to post it. He wrote “when” not “if” but later backtracked.

No doubt Anderson and the other folks at TED don’t appreciate the way Hanauer and his PR representatives have handled this and his talk certainly doesn’t rank as one of the most inspired TED talks, but was it really so politically controversial?

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4 thoughts on “TED responds to criticism

  1. Leslie Garrett

    Where did people in the Western world come up with this equality fetish? Is it not, like their preference for alcohol and belief in feminism, just one more bit of Viking barbarism that they are trying to ram down the throats of people who know better, of nations that were reading and writing for several thousand years while these Europeans and Americans were living in log huts nursing cases of yaws? What statement could one possibly make that has less truth in the real world than “all men are created equal.” Do you really need to hear from urologists and prostitutes to know that this is ridiculous? You may well nourish worthwhile beliefs about the benefits were people to be made more equal without having to spout such misleading nonsense all the time as if it were already fact. If you want to enforce equality then put at least one Protestant on your Supreme Court.

  2. scottindallas

    If this doesn’t get substantive, it’s morality. I’ve explained HOW higher taxes boost productivity and economic expansion. What this guy is arguing is tautologies.

    Raise tax rates, makes the deductible avenues of job creation more attractive. Further, we allow firms to depreciate capital, which is a more lucrative process under a higher tax rate.

    This guy doesn’t understand this accounting. I talk to accountants and CFPs who are ideologically opposed to me, but they can’t argue with my rationale. This guy is ignorant of all that detail. He’s right, but he doesn’t know exactly how he is right. I wrote all this over a year ago, you should’ve reposted it. I will elaborate if you wish.

  3. scottindallas

    leslie, the equality principle is the only way to create a sound society where everyone buys in.

  4. steve

    Equality is how humans lived for 99% of our existance on this planet – in small tribes of gathers / hunters who shared EVERYTHING equally…

    That ‘philosophy’ only led us to the birth of civilization and the top of the food chain….

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