LETTERS: Is Media Overlooking Its Own Culpability in Paid Pundit ‘Scandals’

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By: E&P Staff

To weign in on these discussions or anything else covered by E&P, e-mail us at letters@editorandpublisher.com.


Pot Calling Kettle Black?

In senior editor Dave Astor’s article on syndicated columnists and their sources of income (“Syndicate Execs Discuss the Latest Paid Pundit Scandal,” January 13), he includes a troubling quote from Tribune Media Services Vice President John Twohey. According to Twohey, “Certainly accepting money from an entity you cover crosses a line. I can imagine exceptions, like going on the lecture circuit.” If accepting outside money — especially from corporations — creates an insurmountable conflict of interest, what difference does it make that the money was derived from a speaking engagement?

Monsanto’s 1999 donation to the Hudson Institute to support Michael Fumento’s book project allegedly casts a shadow on any future opinion columns he writes, yet the tens (if not hundreds) of thousands in speaking fees earned each year by prominent journalists is assumed to have no impact on their objectivity whatsoever. A quick look over the Web sites of popular speakers bureaus turns up some interesting figures: a keynote speech by the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward will cost upwards of $40,000, a chat with News Hour chief health correspondent Susan Dentzer could run an organization as much as $15,000, while an evening with New York Daily News’ D.C. bureau chief Tom DeFrank can be had for $7,500.

How is it that an opinion columnist writing from a clear point of view is thought to be damaged by a donation to his non-profit employer, yet straight news reporters are immune to large sums of money they receive directly? When is the last time any of the elite journalists who accept four- and five-figure speaking fees — often from corporations and business associations — made print (or on-air) disclosures during stories related to the industries who have cut them checks? Perhaps when the big guns of journalism meditate on why their own speaking fees are perfectly legitimate, they’ll acquire a bit more perspective on the “scandal” of recent weeks.

Richard Morrison
Director of Media Relations
Competitive Enterprise Institute*
Washington, D.C.
Disclosure: *Michael Fumento was the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s 1994 Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellow.

In the spirit of fairness, we’ll reprint Twohey’s complete quote here, including the part about disclosure, which Morrison omitted: “Certainly accepting money from an entity you cover crosses a line. I can imagine exceptions, like going on the lecture circuit. But if columnists accept speaking fees from an organization they end up writing about, they would need to disclose that in the column.”


The following letter is in response to a column written by Karen List, a journalism professor at UMass who once taught Jill Carroll, the Christian Science Monitor stringer currently being held captive in Iraq. Exactly one week ago today a deadline to meet the demands of her captors passed with no work on Carroll’s fate.

Re: College Teacher Recalls ‘Our Jill’

Your recent “Our Jill” story touched me and I just wanted to say a personal thanks. Of all the stories I’ve read over the last three weeks, you story really captured the Jill I know. I believe Jill is devastated by the murder of her friend Allan and will be surprised at her “canonization” in the media. She was just doing what she loved and accepted the risks. I’ve known Jill since she was a baby and her character, determination and grit have always been evident. She’ll get her through this. The only thing you missed is what I’ll be doing when Jill’s released — I won’t be just dancing around my kitchen — I’ll be on the kitchen table, bouncing off the walls, out on the deck, in the front yard dancing, crying, laughing and thanking God.

Thank you again for a great article!

Vic Alonzi
Tulsa, Okla.


Re: Newspapers Get a Jump on Death With Pre-Written Obits

What a fun read!

I loved the anecdote about Bette Davis. There is nothin’ like a dame.

Beth Bragg
Anchorage Daily News


And Now for Today’s Latin Lesson

Re: The Real Cost of Google’s Sellout to China

Thomas Lipscomb writes, “The press faced an annum horribilis in 2005.” The correct Latin phrase would have both the noun and adjective in agreement in the nominative case: “annus horribilis.” Perhaps this is a bit of pedantry on my part — but HRH Elizabeth II said it correctly in an address to Parliament a few years ago. An interesting article on the phrase is here.

Robert R. “Bob” Curlee
Virginia Beach, Va.


Fourth Amendment Worries

Re: Defending Spy Program, General Reveals Shaky Grip on 4th Amendment

Has our Administration decided to totally redefine the 4th Amendment so that searches and seizures need only meet the standard of not being unreasonable, while only warrants require probable cause? Have they parsed our protection from the requirement of probable cause out of existence? It appears their reasoning is that as long as you do not try for a warrant you do not need probable cause.

This strange interpretation would mean that no municipality or law enforcement agency in the US would ever need a search warrant to tap our phones, open our mail or enter our homes. As long as they feel their searches are not “unreasonable,” it is open season on us and our privacy. Do you think this is what the framers of the Constitution had in mind, or are we plunging into a police state?

John Bolton, MD
Mill Valley, Calif.


The president believes that by waving bin Laden under people’s noses, and renaming the domestic spying campaign, he will again deceive Americans as he has in the past. And many will be deceived. But many more will not. His patterns are too set and predictable. His lies too frequent, and similar. He tells the same stories to justify attacking Iran that he used for Iraq. His supporters beat the same war drums. And his war, which he and his cronies admit will last for “generations,” supposedly justifies the loss of our civil rights.

I believe in Ben Franklin, who once said, “They who would give up their liberty for a little security, deserve neither.” And besides, it isn’t security he offers us, it is a police state, and he would be the dictator.

America will not tolerate these people. No matter how many elections they fix, in the end, they will be overthrown. We are not fools, the Catholic Workers Union and the Quakers are not terrorists. Neither are members of the ACLU. They are simply people who disagree with GW Bush, and that is what he is spying on. He is spying on political dissidents, with the help of the most corrupt Attorney General ever to occupy that office, and a Congress that has forgotten their sworn duty to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States. We take that as a personal offense, George, and we wont back down.

Phyllis Smith
Statesville, N.C.


Shaky Grip on 4th Amendment

You accuse the former director the NSA of having a shaky grip on the 4th Amendment, but the general is correct. The standard for warrantless searches is reasonableness. The standard for issuing a warrant — which is not always required for a search — is probable cause. Look at it this way: We can search people without a warrant before they get onto airplanes because it is reasonable to do so. However, if we required a warrant to search people before getting onto airplanes, probable cause would be required.

It seems anomalous but there are historical reasons. At the time of the founding a victim of an illegal warrantless search could sue the officer who conducted it. But if the officer got a warrant, he could not be sued and the victim of an illegal search had no legal recourse. Thus the standard was higher for warrants than for warrantless searches.

Charles A. Foster (esq.)

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