Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Op-Ed Columnists with Conflicts: Doug Bandow was caught up in the Abramoff scandal in a minor way when it became known that he had accepted payments from the disgraced GOP lobbyist to write columns on issues of interest to Abramoff or his clients. He lost his newspaper column and his position with the Cato Institute, and in his farewell piece he offers up not so much an apology as a meditation on the almost omnipresent potential for conflicts or interest in the punditry profession.

The ethical boundaries in all this aren't always obvious. Virtually everyone I worked with or wrote for had an ax to grind....
Who decides whether such a potential conflict is sufficiently
direct to matter? In 1987, I was paid to help a presidential candidate develop a plan to privatize Social Security. Does that mean I can never have a legitimate opinion on the issue or that politician ever again? And what is an aspiring ideologue to do if he believes something in principle and the person or group
willing to offer support to write about it has an economic interest in the outcome?

I don't think that's a particularly difficult dilemma. The answer to that question and others Bandow poses in his column is transparency. Let your readers decide. If you write about Social Security, tell them how much you received from which candidate and when. If you accepted cash from Abramoff to write about one of his clients, tell your readers. The marketplace will soon tell you if you crossed some sort of ethical or credibility line.

(Actually, your conscience will tell you first: if the payment is something you'd be embarrassed to put in a disclaimer at the end of an article--and the Abramoff payments must have fallen under that heading--you've probably become a whore.)


  • At 9:45 AM, Blogger Edward O'Meara said…

    The most interesting part of his article was the comment that people in the policy and opinion business must establish a "patchwork" of jobs to compile an income. This is a fact of life for far too many people, and one that no doubt leads them into such sticky wickets.

    But doesn't transparency or conflict of interest go beyond the cash question? Might it also help serve the public if Christiane Amanpour disclosed during her foreign affairs reporting that she is married to a Clinton and/or Kerry foreign affairs advisor? (something I didn't know until reading your blog today) Or disclosure by Andrea Mitchell when reporting on economic news that she is married to Alan Greenspan? At least the public knew Connie Chung had Maury Pauvich whispering in her ear and could take sides as Matalin and Carville publicly flogged each other!


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