Whenever I saw articles in conservative publications on such topics as the free enterprise principles of Choctaw Indians, or how Puerto Rican statehood should be supported because it would create "another bastion for the religious right," it confused me. It doesn't confuse me as much anymore. First, Armstrong Williams gets outed for taking government money to parrot the Bush Administration line on No Child Left Behind. Then, columnist Peter Ferrara admitted to writing pieces favorable to the clients of lobbyist Jack Abramoff in exchange for money. Then, Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham confessed to taking bribes from government contractors. Now, Doug Bandow, a writer who I've enjoyed reading over the years, has admitted, like Ferrara, to taking payments from Abramoff to write columns favorable to his clients. While it doesn't appear that Bandow changed his position on any issue because of the money, as Williams appears to have, it is still disgraceful. He passed off advertising as independent commentary. He perpetrated a fraud. All of Jack Abramoff's money, all of ADCS Inc.'s money, all of the federal government's money can't buy back a man's integrity once it's gone.
See Paul Krugman’s column in yesterday’s NY Times. It is amazing what passes for political commentary these days.
Most pundits make no attempt to even handedly address an issue. When you write for those with a particular agenda either you believe the party line or work elsewhere. Political think tanks are the opposite of their title. Most are just political shills.
Though I am a liberal and disagree in most cases with them, I can still enjoy the intellectual honesty of, in the past, Bill Buckley and today Cal Thomas.
Dan, I agree with your general sentiment. I can't imagine why anyone would sell out like that. But I also believe that, in fairness, the "new media" has blurred the lines, a bit. Am I a journalist? Are you a journalist? Not really, but sort of ... Have you ever posted a favorable blog about a company or organization you were currently working for? If so, even if you believe every word you wrote, does that qualify as being a shill? The truth is, I don't really have an answer to these questions... However, I do believe it's a greyer area than some would like to admit. Additionally, would this be as big a story if Abramoff wasn't behind it???
Matt, you make some good points. I think transparency is the key here. When I worked for LI, I blogged favorably about them but I made sure to make clear that I worked for them. I also made sure I didn't blog about them unless it was blogworthy. In other words, I would never waste a post on something that I didn't think would interest readers. I don't want my time wasted so I don't waste theirs. If I did, my readers would slowly go away. Leaving ethics aside, there is this utilitarian reason not to shill.
What if you're not getting paid by someone to promote something, but have a friendship with the person seeking publicity? Is this unseemly? It's certainly common. What about authors who receive grants (I haven't been so lucky)? Does the cash taint whatever they write? Ditto for organizations that produce studies after receiving grants, or network news divisions that receive advertising dollars and report on the corporations paying for the newscast?
Abramoff wasn't behind Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher, but those were still big stories (particularly the former). There are obviously differences in the ethical offenses these writers are guilty of, with Williams's offense being the worst because his opinion on NCLB changed after he got paid. Unfortunately for them, they all get grouped together but that's the price of doing business unethically. I agree that there are gray areas, but I think Williams, Ferrara, and Bandow are in black-and-white territory. If one's a writer, credibility is huge. But as you point out, the lines between propagandist and independent writer have blurred in recent years. So I'm sure they'll still have journals that publish their work. As a reader, I'll steer clear of those journals.
Once again, I think the reason this is one of the best blogs out there is that your posts stimulate a lot of healthy debate. I agree with your hypothesis that it's both the right thing -- and the smart thing -- to keep it on the up and up.
One more observation, and then I'll get out of your hair. Just to illustrate how entangled the "new" media is, I should disclose a few things ...
- Dan and I have worked at the same organization, but not at the same time. Dan once spoke at Shepherd College, where I attended. My intern once interviewed Dan -- and the interview is currently posted on my website.
- I have met Peter Ferrara, and I believe we both sat on a panel discussion at Heritage Foundation. While Peter was working at Americans for Tax Reform, one of my candidates received their "Hero of the Tax Payer" award.
- I have worked on political campaigns that received contributions from "Duke" Cunningham and, gulp, Jack Abramoff.
The good news is that none of these things have influenced this post. ... And none of the above have ever given me any personal money(although Christmas is right around the corner)...
Dan, keep up the good work. This is an interesting topic, as always!
Another funny thing is when Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, and Victor Davis Hanson write the president's speech and then later go on to praise it:
I imagine they also wrote his "bold" and "visionary" speech from a few days ago.