Wednesday, January 26, 2005

From Infomercials to Payola

Another journalist (a misnomer, perhaps?) admits being paid to write material for a government agency. Maggie Gallagher apologizes for accepting $21,000 to write materials promoting marriage. She also wrote a published article on the subject for an assistant secretary of Health and Human Services.

Actually, the government can hire whomever it wants to work for them, even on a contractual basis. The agency must comply with federal procurement regulations when hiring contractors, which I assume it did in this case (although this payout was so small that it probably falls under the radar).

So, what’s the issue? Well the problem is different for Gallagher than it was for the previous transgressor, commentator Armstrong Williams. Williams was paid to sell the President’s education policy on his talk show, which he did by having the subject on the show’s agenda rather frequently and interviewing Education Secretary Rod Paige. Williams was essentially being paid to be a shill for the administration.

Gallagher, on the other hand, was just a paid copy writer. The agency hired her for her writing skills (and the fact that she spoke their red state language…oh, darn, I’ve fallen into that overhyped stereotype). She didn’t use her column to push the administration’s specific agenda on the subject for which she was paid. This issue taints her more than it taints the administration, because now she is painted with the same brush as Williams: the supposed journalistic integrity that comes with being a columnist is now blurred because she became a paid agent of the government.

In my earlier post, I called it the government’s new infomercial. It might better be called the government’s new payola.

No comments: