Feds Disguised as Reporters

Feds Disguised as Reporters By Ted Williams “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” declared Thomas Jefferson. But the Bush administration is attempting to be both. For a third time it has been caught secretly placing flattering articles about itself, this time in the hook-and-bullet press. According to The Washington Post and USA Today, the Department of Agriculture paid at least $7,500 to Dave Smith, whom it later hired and who went on to serve as secretary of Western Outdoor Writers, to write articles about how the department-administered Farm Bill benefits wildlife. Two of the articles appeared in Outdoor Oklahoma, which identified Smith as a fed. The other ran in Washington-Oregon Game & Fish, which declined to mention any federal connection, despite the fact that Smith is quoted as saying he informed the magazine of his government contract in writing. Earlier in 2005 journalists Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher were paid $241,000 and $21,500 respectively to cheerlead for the departments of Education and Health and Human Services respectively. Washington-Oregon Game & Fish editor Burt Carey, who also serves as president of Western Outdoor Writers (WOW), dismisses all reporting of his role in the Bush administration’s covert self promotion as “100 percent politically motivated.” Other WOW officials passionately defend Carey, arguing that he did nothing unethical in passing off free government promo as objective reporting. “If the believability of the information would have been undermined by the information about who paid Smith, but the information itself was true, Carey served the greater interest of his readers by fulfilling his role as a gate keeper and not publishing that information,” proclaims WOW vice president Galen Geer. “I'd be willing to bet that there was little ‘political’ within the article, thus no real reason to tell readers of Smith's government contract,” opines WOW members-screening chair, Tony Mandile. But the “political” nature of reporting can be as much a function of what’s missing as what appears in print. Parts of the Farm Bill are good for wildlife, other parts -- such as the way it encourages the destruction of native prairies -- are hurtful. The coverage commissioned by the Bush administration didn’t mention the bad parts. Recently the White House has been making noises of contrition. Following the two earlier disclosures the president asserted that government promo should be identified as such, and the cringing Department of Agriculture pledges to follow that directive. So for the Bush administration good press keeps getting harder to come by. Now it can’t even buy it.