January 18, 2006
Journalistic Ethics and the Abramoff
With no real issues
to promote, Democrats are putting all their eggs into the basket
of corruption to restore their political fortunes. They and their
friends in the mainstream media are working overtime to connect
everyone and everything on the right side of the political spectrum
to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has pleaded guilty
to multiple felonies.
One channel that
Democrats and liberals are working is tying conservative think
tanks to the Abramoff scandal. They know that these think tanks
have been one of the most effective forces in Washington over
the last 30 years in advancing a conservative agenda. If these
organizations can be tainted by Abramoff, it may help neuter a
major source of ideas, research and funding for conservative initiatives.
hit pay dirt a few weeks ago when Cato Institute senior fellow
Doug Bandow admitted taking money directly from Abramoff to write
columns supporting some of his Indian tribe interests. What got
Bandow into double-trouble is that he had a syndicated column
with Copley News Service, which meant that "journalistic
ethics" applied in his case.
are almost a contradiction in terms. We see in the papers and
on the news every day that journalists are among the least ethical
people in society. They think nothing about intruding on the grief
of families in their darkest hours, as they did in the recent
West Virginia coal mine disaster. Reporters pride themselves on
having no loyalty to their country or anything else except getting
the story, whatever the cost. And they justify all their obnoxious
behavior on the peoples' "right to know," when all they
are really doing is indulging their own prurient compulsion to
know everything about everyone.
is one area where journalistic ethics has some validity and that
is that reporters (or columnists) are not supposed to be paid
directly by sources they write about. If nothing else, it creates
an appearance of impropriety. While in Bandow's case, I have no
doubt that his views and Abramoff's were the same on the issues
he wrote about, it can reasonably be assumed that he would have
written on different topics those weeks had Abramoff's money not
been a factor.
For this sin, Bandow
was fired by the Cato Institute and lost his column as well. Maybe
now is the time for him to put his Stanford law degree to work.
In the field of law, a willingness to take money from sleazy characters
and say whatever is necessary on their behalf is seen as a virtue,
not a character flaw.
is the case of Peter Ferrara, a fellow with the Dallas-based Institute
for Policy Innovation. He also admitted taking money from Abramoff
to write studies and op-ed columns on his behalf. The difference
is that Ferrara does not have a syndicated column or regular newspaper
slot. He is simply a free-lancer who writes about whatever he
feels like. While he should have disclosed his relationship with
Abramoff, Ferarra was not bound by journalistic ethics, and therefore
has not suffered the same punishment as Bandow. He remains employed
No doubt, Ferrara
will have a harder time in the future placing op-eds. Newspapers
will certainly insist on knowing whether he has been retained
by anyone to write on whatever topic he has written about. But
there is nothing inherently wrong with writing articles about
subjects one has been paid to write about. Corporations, labor
unions and other special interests have their staff and their
agents write articles all the time promoting their interests.
As long as those interests are transparent, everything is kosher.
In the latest
case, Hudson Institute senior fellow Michael Fumento has been
accused of an ethical lapse because he solicited funds from the
giant agribusiness company Monsanto while writing columns about
biotechnology. Because he failed to disclose this relationship,
he has lost his column with Scripps Howard News Service.
What is different
about the Fumento case, however, is that no Monsanto money flowed
into his bank account. The money went to Hudson to support its
overall program. There is no evidence that Fumento benefited monetarily.
Therefore, to my mind, there has been no ethical lapse and no
justification for punishment. Fumento remains employed by the
What is going on
here, I think, is an effort to demonize perfectly reasonable,
standard fundraising practices in order to inhibit the ability
of conservative think tanks to compete in the realm of ideas with
liberal newspapers, television networks, universities and foundations.
If liberals and Democrats can make it seem as if the receipt of
any corporate money by a think tank automatically taints all the
work of its writers and researchers, then they will have won a
2006 Creators Syndicate