Armstrong Williams was right

Topics: War Room,

There are others — one other syndicated columnist, at least, who, like Armstrong Williams took thousands of taxpayer dollars to write glowing reviews of administration policies and defend government programs in interviews and TV appearances. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post reports that Maggie Gallagher, a syndicated columnist, had a $21,500 contract with the department of health and human services to help promote President Bush’s initiative to convince poor people to get married. As a paid representative of the administration, she wrote columns for National Review Online, among other outlets, promoting the pro-marriage program. On other occasions, Gallagher was working more directly for HHS, writing brochures and other literature.

Gallagher says her deal wasn’t anything like Williams’ (she has a point, in a way, he got a lot more money than she did.) And according to Kurtz, Gallagher says that if she had remembered the financial arrangement she had with the administration, she would have disclosed it to her readers. But she wants us to believe that the thousands of additional dollars in her checking account were so insignificant to her, it just never occurred to her to mention it. “Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing it?” Gallagher said to Kurtz. “I don’t know. You tell me.”

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Later in the piece, Wade Horn of HHS says he hired Gallagher because she’s a “well-known expert” in the field. Certainly, “experts” write op-eds all the time, but readers deserve to know if the expert opinion they’re reading in the newspaper is paid for by the federal government. Government officials and employees also write op-eds, but they should, and usually do, make clear to readers that they are writing in an official capacity. Maggie Gallagher, it appears, didn’t disclose in her opinion pieces or interviews that she was a government employee and not an impartial analyst, and if she doesn’t know what’s ethically murky about that, there’s a problem.

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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