Is George Will’s $250,000 Prize Yet More Payola?

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By: Dave Astor

When the conservative Bradley Foundation awarded a $250,000 prize to George Will last week, it raised some eyebrows at a time when Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher, and Michael McManus have been criticized for accepting government money.

The foundation is a private entity, but it is reported to have ties to the Bush administration, and its president/CEO is a former Republican National Committee member.

The prize “sure has a strong stench of a payoff to yet another White House sycophant,” said “Non Sequitur” cartoonist Wiley Miller, whose Universal Press Syndicate comic appears in 700-plus newspapers and includes political commentary. “Is this how they’re going to get around direct payoffs, by pretending it’s some sort of journalism award?”

But Suzette Standring, president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, feels differently. “To me, financial awards, however large, bestowed for excellent writing are not a form of payola,” she said. “It’s a mind-bender to believe George Will would otherwise write liberally had a left-leaning $250,000 prize been dangled in front of him. A conservative foundation recognizes and awards conservative writing — what’s the surprise?”

Both Will and Bradley Foundation President/CEO Michael Grebe did not return E&P phone calls asking for comment.

Will, who’s syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group to 400-plus papers, was one of four conservatives to each receive $250,000 for winning this year’s second annual Bradley Prize, presented for what the organization calls outstanding intellectual achievement. (The other three aren’t columnists.) During the award’s inaugural year, the four winners included two other columnists: Charles Krauthammer of the Writers Group and Thomas Sowell of Creators Syndicate.

Aly Col?n, who teaches ethics at the Poynter Institute, said he didn’t know enough about the Bradley honor to judge whether it’s a problem for a newspaper columnist to receive it.

Col?n did add: “When a journalist is awarded a prize, there’s going to be some tension with regard to how independent the journalist remains.” He said there’s less tension when the prize comes from a journalism organization, but “another dimension of seriousness” when the award comes from an organization with a political orientation — and when the recompense is as large as $250,000. Also, Col?n raised the possibility that such a lucrative award could influence columnists who would like to win it in the future.

A number of journalism awards come with cash, but usually far less than $250,000. Pulitzer Prize winners, for instance, receive $10,000. Speaking of the Pulitzers, Will was quoted by The New York Sun as saying at the Feb. 16 Bradley ceremony in Washington, D.C.: “It’s very fine to win the Pulitzer Prize. It’s even better to receive the Bradley Prize.”

The full name of the Milwaukee entity that gives the prize is the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation — named after the brothers who founded, in 1903, what became the Allen-Bradley Company. When A-B was acquired by Rockwell International in 1985, a significant portion of the proceeds went to the foundation — which had about $535 million in assets as of September 2003, according to a Newhouse News Service article that month.

The article said of the foundation: “Headed by a former Republican Party official [Grebe] and enjoying strong ties to the Bush administration, the foundation is credited with producing more than a decade of intellectual fuel for conservative lawmakers.”

Another 2003 article, in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, said many of the neoconservatives who would later urge President Bush to invade Iraq had received funding from the Bradley Foundation.

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