TAMPA BAY – Almost the first thing a journalist sees when he walks into the convention center is a Google-sponsored lounge for the press. It’s brightly colored, brightly lit, with a free cappuccino bar, outlets, and free wifi. Charming young women greet you with a smile. There are comfy chairs, too. Google had the same setup in Des Moines before the Iowa Caucuses, and they’ll have the same in Charlotte at the DNC next week.
The workspaces for a few dozen journalists are basically adjacent the side of this lounge, and the cappuccinos are available to all journos.
I asked the Google employees why Google was doing this. They spoke about the various Google products they wanted us to use, but they also started talking about why would should just love Google as a company: “Google does so much for economic development,” one Google employee told me, pointing to an interactive map describing how many jobs Google makes in various places.
That’s when you start to realize one aspect of what Google is doing here. They want to give political journalists a generally positive impression of Google. This matters in part because Google is a very political company. Google was number three among companies from which Obama raised money in 2008. The company lobbies hard for net neutrality regulations which would protect its profit model, and they are engaged in a politicized litigation rumble with Microsoft.
Many political reporters will be writing about Google. I don’t think the cappuccino or comfy chairs Google has given them serve as bribes, but the whole setup serves to create a warm impression of a controversial company.
Are we okay with this? What if it were the Exxon Hangout?
That said, these conventions are full of free stuff for journos paid for by politically active companies.
Rail giant CSX provided breath mints in the swag bag for all media. The American Petroleum Institute, through an organization called “Vote 4 Energy” has given us free hand lotion, sunglasses, and a handheld fan (powered by batteries, sadly, rather than diesel). T Boone Pickens and Aubrey McClendon are buying us all coffee and water through a campaign called “CNG Now.”
Is it kosher for companies to be giving such goodies to the press? Am I tainted because I just drank some Pickens water and a Google cappuccino?