Maggie Gallagher: Pundit for Hire
Howie Kurtz breaks the news that Armstrong Williams has company:
In 2002, syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher repeatedly defended President Bush’s push for a $300 million initiative encouraging marriage as a way of strengthening families. “The Bush marriage initiative would emphasize the importance of marriage to poor couples” and “educate teens on the value of delaying childbearing until marriage,” she wrote in National Review Online, for example, adding that this could “carry big payoffs down the road for taxpayers and children.”
But Gallagher failed to mention that she had a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help promote the president’s proposal. Her work under the contract, which ran from January through October 2002, included drafting a magazine article for the HHS official overseeing the initiative, writing brochures for the program and conducting a briefing for department officials.
Paul Glastris sees this as part of a growing trend:
What’s striking about this emerging payola scandal is the aggressive cluelessness of the participants towards basic standards of journalistic decency. Remember how Armstrong Williams claimed never to have considered that it might be wrong to take a quarter million dollars of government money to promote the administration’s education policies as an “independent” opinion journalist and not, at the very least, disclose the fact? Gallagher betrayed the same indifference when confronted by Kurtz. “Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing it?…I don’t know. You tell me.”
This is an attitude you’re seeing a lot of today in Washington. The ascendant class of conservative pundit-operatives looks upon old strictures of behavior with a kind of incomprehension, even contempt.
Clearly, not disclosing these conflicts is poor journalistic practice. The strange thing is that Williams and Gallagher almost certainly supported the positions they were advocating, anyway.
Indeed, I’m more concerned about why the administration is wasting taxpayer money trying to buy coverage from columnists than I am about the ethics of the pundits in question. Ultimately, after all, opinion journalists will be judged on the strength of their arguments and the evidence they marshall to buttress them.