Friedman to Return $75,000 Speaker’s Fee

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By: E&P Staff

It drew criticism earlier this week for another reason: The $75,000 paid to New York Times columnist for a speech to a San Francisco group that allegedly the attendees could have just as easily read or watched online. Now Friedman has returned the fee due to an ethical challenge.

The Los Angeles Times’ James Rainey writes today that he tried to get answers from Friedman and a Times spokeswoman to no avail, concerning the speech last week sponsored by the San Francisco Bay Area’s clean air district.

Then, late yesterday, a Times spokeswoman called to say Friedman would return the 75 grand. She said there had been “a misunderstanding.” She also said the fee really wasn’t unreasonable.

Rainey takes it from there, below. There’s much more here.


Times ethics guidelines allow staffers to take speaking fees only from “educational and other nonprofit groups for which lobbying and political activity are not a major focus.” The Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which coughed up Friedman’s standard fee, hardly fits that bill.

So here’s a tip of the reportorial green eye shade to Phil Matier and Andy Ross, the San Francisco Chronicle columnists who broke the story about the big payment. And here’s a suggestion that the time has come for influential journalists like Friedman to disclose their substantial sources of outside income.

I don’t have any reason to doubt Friedman’s reputation as an earnest and dogged reporter. I read him enough to believe that his opinions, even ones I disagree with, flow from his heart and mind, not his wallet.

Still, it seems only right that journalists — who spend a lot of time pressing public officials to disclose their income sources — start revealing potential conflicts of interest. Some form of transparency will become even more important as a thousand new and unproven news sources bloom online.

Without the Chronicle’s dynamic reporting duo, the Bay Area air district would not be getting back its $75,000, money that could help cities expand bike paths or plant more trees.

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