Free-Floating Hostility

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Note to conservative columnists: Just make them buy you dinner

Apparently the Bush administration doesn't hate journalists after all. No, they are hot to give money to them as long as they write friendly articles. First there was the craven cynicism of paying black conservative Armstrong Williams $240K to support the No Child Left Behind Act. Now there is this, some columnist I've never heard of receiving $21K to promote bills that defend marriage.

As a working journalist, I eat about 150 free or reimbursed meals every year. The free ones are usually paid for by the college athletic departments and professional sports teams that I cover for my newspaper. Some people would suggest that this is a conflict of interest. I strongly disagree. See, reporting is tiring work, and the first thing that goes in a lethargic reporter is the will to resist cynicism. Food in the press box is really a check on that, something that ensures fair coverage by bringing a journalist's body chemistry back into proportion. Games, and the pregame media availablility, usually occur around dinner time. Food is an equalizer.

But, with dinner, the terms are clear. It's usually a meal that is not nearly as delicious as one I could get at home.

Money is a different story, especially when the government's the one giving it out. The No Child Left Behind case is especially egregious, given the volume of unfunded mandates in the law itself. It is a well-documented fact that many people will do almost anything for money, including sell their credibility. I mean, that corporate PR exists proves this. When a columnist sells his or her opinion, that person is selling the only thing of value they have, an honest and informed viewpoint. When I am paid for a column, I am selling my viewpoint to my newspaper. When a columnist is paid to express an opinion, he or she is selling someone else's viewpoint at the expense of honest inquiry. That's the only thing a journalist has to offer. It is unforgivable.

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