That depends on who is paying the bills. Is it your publisher, or is it uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff?
Are you being compensated by a like-minded patron that likes your writing, or are you being spoon-fed talking points and working as a part of a coordinated wurlitzer? What are your ethical obligations about disclosure?
These are important considerations. But our right-wing brethren don’t have too much introspection, let alone any ethics.
From Howard Kurtz:
Copley News Service last week dropped Doug Bandow — who also resigned as a Cato Institute scholar — after he acknowledged taking as much as $2,000 a pop from Abramoff for up to two dozen columns favorable to the lobbyist’s clients. “I am fully responsible and I won’t play victim,” Bandow said in a statement after Business Week broke the story. “Obviously, I regret stupidly calling to question my record of activism and writing that extends over 20 years. . . . For that I deeply apologize.”
Peter Ferrara of the Institute for Policy Innovation has acknowledged taking payments years ago from a half-dozen lobbyists, including Abramoff. Two of his papers, the Washington Times and Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader, have now dropped him. But Ferrara is unapologetic, saying: “There is nothing unethical about taking money from someone and writing an article.”
Readers might disagree on grounds that they have no way of knowing about such undisclosed payments, which seem to be an increasingly common tactic for companies trying to influence public debate through ostensibly neutral third parties. When he was a Washington lawyer several years ago, says law professor Glenn Reynolds, a telecommunications carrier offered him a fat paycheck — up to $20,000, he believes — to write an opinion piece favorable to its position. He declined.
In the case of Bandow’s columns, says Reynolds, who now writes the InstaPundit blog, “one argument is, it’s probably something he thought anyway, but it doesn’t pass the smell test to me. I wouldn’t necessarily call it criminal, but it seems wrong. People want to craft a rule, but what you really need is a sense of shame.”
Jonathan Adler, an associate law professor and National Review contributor, wrote that when he worked at a think tank, “I was offered cash payments to write op-eds on particular topics by PR firms, lobbyists or corporations several times. They offered $1,000 or more for an op-ed,” offers that Adler rejected. Blogger Rand Simberg writes that “I’ve also declined offers of money to write specific pieces, even though I agreed with the sentiment.”
My mailbox is filled with suggestions. Bloggers that want to be linked, congressional staffers that want me to know what their boss is up to, political activists, thinktanks, seminars, bills, amendments to bills, members of the site, friends, family…all send me stuff hoping to influence what I choose to write about. But, so far, no checks, or offers of money.
It’s natural that people want their point of view expressed, and it’s natural that some people are willing to pay for their point of view to be expressed. And bloggers and small-time journalists are vulnerable to making ethical lapses because they do not make much money.
I don’t make much money. But I pledge to you that I won’t accept money in return for writing about a certain topic, or to cover a topic a certain way. And if I ever receive a stipend I will disclose where the money is coming from.
I’d rather be poor and have my reputation than living in shame and self-loathing.
Maybe that is the difference between those that judge themselves by the size of their bank account and the power of their friends, and those that can find their self-worth in the honesty of their work.
Before the Plamegate and Abramoff scandals are through we are going to learn a lot about the shamelessness of the right-wing media wurlitzer.
When I want to be shameless I limit myself to asking people to visit the Booman Tribune store.