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All content © 2002-2005 Anne Zook

January 04, 2006
Pay As You Go

Looks to me like our national network of OpEd columnists is largely owned by politicians. Maybe the outright "pay for coverage" scandal is less of a scandal than a revelation of what "business as usual" has turned into in politics?

Maybe we should be considering Doug Bandow's words very, very carefully?

But, he added, "this episode ought to do more; it ought to spur a serious discussion about the punditry game. After all, isn't it a little unseemly for Washington to be suddenly shocked, shocked at the fact that those with interests in what government does (such as Abramoff and his clients) seek out like-minded advocates (such as me and hundreds of other commentators and organizations)?"

Bandow said that, over the years, he "created a patchwork of jobs. I ghostwrote Op-Ed articles, drafted political speeches, prepared internal corporate briefings and strategized business media campaigns. All the while, I also wrote commentary and opinion pieces. Clearly, the ethical boundaries in all this aren't always obvious. Virtually everyone I worked with or wrote for had an ax to grind."

The ex-columnist also said: "How can we be sure that newspapers keep advertisers out of news decisions? Don't broadcast media hire consultants and pollsters to contribute to their news coverage, people who could benefit financially from promoting the ideas of their other clients? And haven't reporters sometimes pocketed thousands of dollars speaking at conventions or corporate events and then covered those businesses -- or their issues -- in one way or another?"

Yes, to some extent it's a rationalization of what he did. But looked at another way, it's a warning, loud and clear, that what many of us have been saying is true. We need to take a good, hard look at the "news media" in this country. Who's paying for it, who's supporting it, and who's using it for what?

And the media needs to take a good, hard look at itself.

It doesn't really matter that these are the Op-Ed pages and not the news pages. The principle remains. People reading the papers or magazines are entitled to know if the columnist's support has been purchased, or even rented, by some special interest group.

And those people who pretend that the Op-Ed pages are somehow exempt from holding to moral and ethical standards because they're "not the news" are kidding themselves and we all know it. The Op-Ed pages are just as influential as the stories on the front page of the paper.

While people understand that they're "opinions" they also assume that they're the independent opinions of professional, ethical people. Not bought-and-paid-for column inches from hacks available for hire to the nearest political operative with an agenda.

Posted by AnneZook at 10:15 AM


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