Mr. Smith writes for Washington

The latest chapter in the Bush administration payola scandal is especially enlightening for nature lovers.

Published May 11, 2005 10:18PM (EDT)

So, you want to make a living musing about the outdoors, but itinerant river raft guide/cowboy poet isn't working out for you? Time to get on the federal propaganda gravy train. Yes, even nature writers are doing it, as long as they don't mind shilling for the feds.

In the latest chapter of the payola scandal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture doled out $7,500 to a freelancer named Dave Smith to publish articles touting how the agency's programs enhance wildlife habitat. The Washington Post reported today, based on documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, that the agency's National Resources Conservation Service hired Smith in September 2003 to "research and write articles for hunting and fishing magazines describing the benefits of NRCS Farm Bill programs to wildlife habitat and the environment."

The Mr.-Smith-writes-for-Washington story is just the latest in a string of revelations in recent months of the Bush government surreptitiously funding the work of "journalists." Since the scandal broke, President Bush has said that the federal government should not longer put journalists on the payroll. But how many more Mr. Smiths, hired to shill over the past few years, will turn up?

Smith is now working as a staff biologist for the Conservation Service in Missoula, Mont., but he told the Post that he was paid between $7,500 and $7,800 by the government on the contract before joining the agency. His federally funded stories ran in Outdoor Oklahoma magazine and Washington-Oregon Game & Fish magazine, which is owned by the media giant Primedia Inc., a producer of more than 120 consumer publications. Smith claims that he told the editors at the magazines about the funding, and received no payment from the publications for the stories -- yet the articles did not disclose that he was under contract with the agency to write them. We can't wait to see what the spin out of Washington will be this time around.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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