Another Commentator Got Big Bucks From The Adminstration
Now it turns out that ANOTHER commentator got mooh-lah from the Bush adminstration – which will inevitably raise the question of how many other commentators quietly got this new version of journalistic welfare.
Here’s the latest via The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz:
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.
Glenn Reyolds’ comment says it all on this one: "Another Op-Ed payola scandal? What are these people thinking?"
Apparently, not too hard:
"Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing it?" Gallagher said yesterday. "I don’t know. You tell me." She said she would have "been happy to tell anyone who called me" about the contract but that "frankly, it never occurred to me" to disclose it.
Later in the day, Gallagher filed a column in which she said that "I should have disclosed a government contract when I later wrote about the Bush marriage initiative. I would have, if I had remembered it. My apologies to my readers."
In the interview, Gallagher said her situation was "not really anything near" the recent controversy involving conservative commentator Armstrong Williams. Earlier this month Williams apologized for not disclosing a $241,000 contract with the Education Department, awarded through the Ketchum public relations firm, to promote Bush’s No Child Left Behind law through advertising on his cable TV and syndicated radio shows and other efforts.
Gallagher received an additional $20,000 from the Bush administration in 2002 and 2003 for writing a report, titled "Can Government Strengthen Marriage?", for a private organization called the National Fatherhood Initiative. That report, published last year, was funded by a Justice Department grant, said NFI spokesman Vincent DiCaro. Gallagher said she was "aware vaguely" that her work was federally funded.
So now we’re talking about $40,000 dished out to someone who just happens to comment on a subject about which she was being paid by the government to write. This would not raise as many questions if her work had been in an unrelated field — but as the Post notes:
In columns, television appearances and interviews with such newspapers as The Washington Post, Gallagher last year defended Bush’s proposal for a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage.
What is truly DISMAYING is this: Didn’t it ever occur to those folks in the adminstration that if they paid money to people who comment on their policies, even if the commentators are SINCERE the payments would sandbag the validity of their comments if ever the news got out? Apparently there wasn’t much heavy thinking on the part of the admininistration as well.
Wade Horn, HHS assistant secretary for children and families, said his division hired Gallagher as "a well-known national expert," along with other specialists in the field, to help devise the president’s healthy marriage initiative. "It’s not unusual in the federal government to do that," he said.
Well, then let’s get more details on who else has been quietly enrolled in this new government program Contract A Commentator.
BOTTOM LINE: It’s a mini-scandal that is likely not over yet. Expect more press reports of others (if others do exist) who were in effect subsidized to work or comment on issues related to their commentary work. And if the press does its digging properly, perhaps it can be documented as to how far this kind of Share The Wealth program has been going on (Bill Clinton? George Bush, Sr? Ronald Reagan? Etc.).