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Saturday, January 29, 2005  

Opinion: Gallagher should donate flack funds to charity

I have been musing about Maggie Gallagher's misstep. By now you've probably heard about the Right Wing columnist secretly flacking for the government. Gallagher (pictured) received a tidy sum for promoting marriage in her syndicated column and an article. Some people are wondering if the Bush administration has a pattern of paying conservatives to be behind the scenes promoters of its policies.

The Daily Ilini looks at the evidence so far.

Wednesday's Washington Post reported that syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher was paid $21,500 by the Department of Health and Human Services to encourage President Bush's $300 million program to strengthen marriage. Gallagher drafted a magazine article for the department official overseeing the program, wrote brochures for the program and briefed department officials.

The Post article is only the latest report of the Bush administration using bribes and deception to get favorable media coverage. Last year, the administration sent "video news releases" touting the President's prescription drug plan to TV stations, who aired them as if they were regular news reports. And just a few weeks ago, commentator Armstrong Williams was found to have accepted $240,000 to push the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind initiative.

Blogger Trish Wilson notes that Gallagher also received a second payment for an article she wrote for the National Fatherhood Initiative. It was for $20,000.

Anne Martens, writing at Blue Oregon, is wondering if what Gallagher did is really grounds for being pilloried.

I've long complained that it's difficult for government to sell the public on policies without being permitted a huge advertising budget. And if government could promote itself in the same ways that Nike and Exxon and Ben & Jerry's do, then maybe people wouldn't hate government so much and maybe we could build widespread support for particular policies. Propaganda! Outrageous! Well, of course, but also very effective, and frankly much needed in this crowded age of less news and more opinion.

Really, it's not so surprising that people who believe a certain thing are happy to accept money to say what they were going to say anyway. How does this differ from the standard lecture circuit, where bigwigs get paid big bucks to say what they already believe? Is it because the money comes from the government and not some other source? Is it because we know lecturers are being paid and we expect pundits not to be? Are either of those complaints really legitimate?

Gallagher's response to the criticism has been she forgot to tell people that she was being paid to promote marriage by the government. As someone who writes for money, I do not find the practice something to be criticized in itself. I believe Gallagher's failure to disclose the relationship is the problem. Though she may personally agree with every word officials of the administration have to say about marriage, money is an incentive that can influence what a person writes, so it should be reported. In addition, one can't help but wonder if the DHH's money was wisely spent. The $41,500 paid to a columnist who claims she would have written in favor of marriage regardlessly seems to be a waste of taxpayers' money.

Therefore, I have a proposal. If Gallagher could forget about 40 grand, it must not be a significant part of her income. She wouldn't miss it if she gave it up. I propose that Maggie Gallagher donate the $41,500 she received from the government to charity. The name of the charity should be publicized and the donation confirmed. If Gallagher is truly contrite, the suggestion should fill her with relief. She can prove the situation is a misunderstanding by refusing to profit by it. Tongues will stop wagging. At least one newspaper, the Middletown Journal, in Ohio, has dropped her column. Her generosity might prevent others from doing so. And, as a a bonus, she would no longer be grouped with sleazy Armstrong Williams. His past includes being a living lawn jockey for the late senator and arch hypocrite Strom Thurmond, and, being sued for sexual harassment after allegedly chasing a male co-worker around his office. Surely, a gal who considers herself virtuous does not belong in such company. I will be mailing my proposal to Gallagher. I hope to receive a thank you note. Any other remuneration will be reported.

Reasonably related

Editor & Publisher has been very thorough in its coverage of Miss Maggie's Misstep. Start with this index.

•Religion columnist Michael McManus has also received money from the Bush administration for promoting its marriage policy in his syndicated column. The New York Times has the story.

2:45 AM