As a research associate at the Cato Institute, I’ve met Doug Bandow a few times, and it was truly a shock to me to learn that he was taking money from lobbyist extraordinaire Jack Abramoff for writing articles favorable to Abramoff’s clients such as Native American-run casinos. (A second think tanker, Peter Ferrara, is implicated as well.) Franklin Foer also write, here, that Bandow flatly denied a financial relationship with Abramoff when Foer asked him about it for an article earlier this year. I’m not sure I can really understand what makes people do such things. Ethics aside, what about the strong possibility of exposure and disgrace? Bandow has now lost both his position at Cato and his syndicated column; all this for a maximum of $48,000 spread out over 10 years. If I decided to sell my integrity, I would hope that even $48,000 a year wouldn’t do the trick.
I suppose the self-justification mechanism goes something like, “I’m not writing anything I don’t believe in.” But even if that were an excuse — how do you really know, in your own mind, that you’d be writing the same thing even without payments?
It’s particularly irksome that some are making excuses for this behavior:
Neither Ferrara, nor Tom Giovanetti, president of the Institute for Policy Innovation, expressed any ethical qualms about the pay-for-play. Giovanetti said critics are applying a “naive purity standard” to the op-ed business, adding, “I have a sense that there are a lot of people at think tanks who have similar arrangements.”
“Naive purity standard”? There’s an interesting term.
Meanwhile, kudos to Cal Thomas; he and I differ on a lot of issues (Thomas is a social and religious conservative), but over the years he has shown himself to be a man of genuine principle, and this is no exception:
“My view has always been that there are too few journalists left in journalism, and too many columnists with actual or potential conflicts of interest writing for mainstream newspapers,” said columnist Cal Thomas, who’s syndicated to nearly 600 papers via Tribune Media Services (TMS).
The conservative commentator told E&P Online that what Bandow did was “a big no-no” that “damages the credibility of everybody” who writes columns.
“I’m getting tired of this,” Thomas added, alluding to other 2005 revelations about columnists on the take. One of them was Armstrong Williams, whose contract was terminated by TMS this past January — hours after it became known he had received federal money.
Without in any way excusing the sellouts, here’s an interesting question to ponder. Does taking money taint opinion journalism more than blind partisan or ideological zeal, on either side of the fence?