February 15, 2005

Newsies or Floozies?

Journalists rely on the five “W”s in order to give the best-possible information: Who? What? When? Where? Why? Given recent events, however, another “W” seems to have arisen: “whore.” By taking bribes from the subjects of their articles, several journalists have recently hurt the already scarred face of the media. Who is to blame for this trend? Yet another “W”: George Bush.

Some writers already prostitute themselves for nothing, by being overly inoffensive and apologetic to the point of being blissfully ignorant of the need for change. Their pieces aim not to inform or to provoke, but to avoid conflict. They can’t read between the lines because they don’t even read the actual lines.

Others require a slight nudge to the wallet to be truly programmed. Several journalists have been busted accepting money from the Republican Party to write pieces favorable to the conservative cause. The Bush administration, worried that the White House press corps was hovering near treason with its mere 98.9-percent loyalty rate, hired a writer named Jeff Gannon and planted him among the press corps. Gannon’s penchant for asking fluff disguised as questions wasn’t what gave him away; rather, it was his association with his supposed employer, Talon News.

Talon News is an organization that, by its own words, is “committed to delivering accurate, unbiased news coverage.” Gannon represented literally half of the organization (that’s right—more people contribute to just this page of The Vermilion than work for Talon). The other employee is Bobby Eberle, head of a group called GOPUSA, whose mission is to “spread the conservative message throughout America.” Talon’s Web site offers numerous sidebar links to Republican sites and a banner ad offering “Any three conservative books for $1 each!” Moreover, articles on the Talon News site link to GOPUSA, the agency’s “number-one client.” If this site was supposedly nonpartisan before the scandal broke, it must really have come out of the closet in recent days.

Gannon is just the latest in what appears to be a chain of journalistic hookers being caught in the act. Armstrong Williams, a conservative multimedia dynamo, recently admitted that throughout 2004 he had been paid by the Bush administration to promote the No Child Left Behind Act in his columns and on his show, The Right Side. His $240,000 gift would have been better spent bribing the teachers and students who have to suffer through No Child Left Behind. Money poorly spent, if you ask me.

Syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher has repeatedly expressed support for the Bush administration’s anti-gay-marriage proposals, to the tune of $21,500 from the Department of Health and Human Services. The HHS also hired columnist Michael McManus to support the same programs. Plus, the Pentagon has allegedly paid journalists to write favorable articles for the Southeast European Times, a U.S. military mouthpiece disguised as a Mediterranean news site.

I’m having a hard time deciding which is more pathetic: that an American presidential administration has to hire columnists to write good things about them or that the columnists are actually willing to do it.

Fortunately, I’m not yet at the point where my integrity takes a backseat. When writing this column, I would never cheapen the independence of my words by mentioning that I watch The Jon Stewart Show every night on Comedy Central at 10 p.m. CST. And you’d never catch me writing here that I get the red out with Visine. You see, I pride myself on my editorial freedom. And on my Arizona jeans.

But for those journalists who have been caught selling out, or have yet to be busted, I simply ask you this: couldn’t you at least have better taste?


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