Less than two weeks ago, many of us sat shell-shocked for a moment as we learned that conservative pundit Armstrong Williams was paid a cool $241,000 by the Department of Education to talk up Bush's No Child Left Behind Act. Williams failed to disclose to his readers and listeners that he had a contract with the federal government.
It has just come to light that another conservative commentator, Maggie Gallagher, had a similar, if less lucrative, contract with the Bush Administration in 2002. Gallagher was paid a total of $41,500 to advertise the Bush Administration's $300 million marriage initiative. [Editor's note: This article was penned on January 26. A third columnist flacking for the Bush Administration on the federal dole was revealed yesterday.]
Gallagher said her situation was “not really anything near” the transgression of Armstrong Williams, but I beg to differ. The only difference here was the sum paid to whore for Bush. I'm surprised she wasn't angry that she didn't get more for her disservice to America.
Gallagher must think that her situation is different because she already writes about defending marriage, and serves as president of the Washington-based Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, makes frequent television appearances and has written on the subject for such publications as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Weekly Standard.
This makes you better, Maggie?
What is the difference between Williams taking money and Gallagher taking money? Armstrong Williams very well may have praised the NCLB Act anyway, without the cash payout. Doesn't make a damn bit of difference. Ethics are ethics, and not disclosing the fact that you are being paid by the White House is unabashedly unethical.
In addition to the fact that these pundits don't mind leaving their integrity at the door, Gallagher said she was only “aware vaguely” that her work was federally funded. Must have been confusing when she was cashing those checks -- must've thought it was just a stroke of good luck, a random cash windfall!
At least Tribune Media Services had the balls to drop Williams when they found out he was a paid servant of the White House. Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes Gallagher's column, plans to keep her on.
“We did not know about the contract,” spokeswoman Kathie Kerr said. “We would have probably liked to have known.” But, Kerr said, “this is what we hired Maggie to write about. It probably wouldn't have changed our mind to distribute it.”
Wonderful. I predicted, when the Armstrong Williams case broke, that we would see much much more of this in the coming weeks and months, and here it is. Regardless of the fact that Maggie Gallagher wrote about these kinds of things normally, without coercion, this is still a clear violation of journalistic ethics. But wait, she doesn't think so.
“Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing it?” Gallagher said yesterday. “I don't know. You tell me.” She said she would have “been happy to tell anyone who called me” about the contract but that “frankly, it never occurred to me” to disclose it.
Funny how it seems to occur to everyone else. Here it is Mag, I'm telling you. The answer is yes, you did. And you know damn well you did.
Where does it end? Who else is on the Bush payroll? I don't know about you, but I can't wait to find out.
Katherine Brengle is a 23-year-old college student and writer from Massachusetts. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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