Columnist Group Prez Denounces Payments to Pundits

By: Dave Astor "You cannot serve two masters. Either you are an unflinchingly independent journalist, or you are a public-relations officer."

Those were the words of Suzette Standring, president of the National Society of Newspapers Columnists (NSNC), commenting today on Universal Press Syndicate columnist Maggie Gallagher's receiving $21,500 from the Department of Health and Human Services for marriage-themed writing projects.

"Armstrong Williams, now Maggie Gallagher -- a disturbing pattern has emerged of governmental agencies using columnists to advance their agenda," said Standring, a self-syndicated columnist based in Massachusetts. "Unwittingly or not, the independence and integrity of the opinions of such columnists have now been compromised."

She added that the NSNC "has long been clear on its
stand of ethics on this matter." Standring said the organization's code of conduct includes the words: "I will offer my opinions and the reasons I hold them as clearly and as fairly as I can. I will never take advantage of my position to achieve unwarranted personal gain not available to others or use my column to settle
personal scores. I will disclose potential conflicts to readers whenever possible."

Standring concluded: "An appearance of a conflict of interest is as damaging as actual wrongdoing. The late Shirley Chisholm described her political career as
'unbought and unbossed.' The same pithy description should apply to all professional columnists."


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