Scandal Simmers Over Bush Administration Payments To Journalists
The New York Times, as usual, has given this the most coverage.
First, of course, there was the $240,ooo paid to Armstrong Williams by the Education Department to extoll its "No Child Left Behind" policies. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) has been pushing inquiries into this episode, suggesting that the money should be returned if it is determined that the payments were illegal in the first place. Another side of this not raised very much so far is whether Williams was also paid by those carrying his articles. This would be a direct and serious conflict of interest.
Second, a conservative writer, Maggie Gallagher, admitted she had received $21,500 from the Department of Health and Human Services to promote a $300 million government initiative to encourage marriage. Gallagher, according to a Jan. 27 Maureen Dowd column in the NYT, praised President Bush at one point as a "genius" at playing "daddy" to the nation in her writings.
Third, a Jan. 29 article in the NYT quotes USA Today to the effect that the Department of Health and Human Services paid a syndicated columnist, Michael McManus, $10,000 to help train counselors about marriage. McManus is also director of a nonprofit called Marriage Savers. This may be a less direct breach of ethics.
If these payments are made to working mainstream writers and columnists, one wonders whether bloggers are also being retained to boost particular points of view. Blogging is new, and there's not much scrutiny of what we are doing.
Just to be explicit, I'm not paid by anyone to do this blog, and unlike many others, I try to be independent in my views. I have both criticized and praised the Bush Administration.
When I used to do quite a bit of lecturing on journalistic issues, I regularly warned my audiences to always be aware of writers having an agenda and to ask critically what the point of view was behind what they were reading. But particularly with the Internet, the reliability of information provided must always be carefully examined for the points of view behind it.
Bush was asked in a recent news interview whether he approved of the Administration paying writers to support its positions. He said no. I hope he was telling the truth and has nothing to do with the episodes that have been revealed, but I'm skeptical.
Meanwhile, the mainstream press has an obligation to continue to examine these reports comprehensively. Any journalist taking payments for what he writes from the government should be thoroughly discredited.