June 22, 2008
Speeches and Line-Dancing (Bob Franken)
@ 3:11 pm
Where do we draw the line? Where do I draw the line? And also, why do I suddenly care about drawing lines?
Because I get paid, sometimes, to make speeches. A lot of fortunate journalists and opinion-makers do. Others want to, but their employers either won't let them or impose severe limitations on these lucrative appearances.
The thinking is that if we take the big bucks from the very groups that can afford to pay, our objectivity might be compromised and we might slant our reporting to favor the wealthy special interests. At the very least, we might look like we are.
I'm thinking about this because David Broder’s and Bob Woodward's appearances for fees have re-generated the controversy. Setting aside the fact that I admire the hell out of both, the question has been raised: Did they adhere to pretty strict Washington Post policies aimed at preventing any questions about conflicts of interest?
But wait a minute: Doesn't The Washington Post accept advertising? Doesn't every news medium? "Accept" it — hell, they are desperate for it, will do just about anything short of groveling for it. Actually, strike that. Some of them will grovel.
Does that mean that these newspapers, TV outlets, blog sites, et cetera, will compromise their journalism to placate their cash cows?
Oftentimes not. Many actually mean it when their policies state there is a wall between sales and editorial. But let's be honest. Many do cave when threatened with the loss of advertising.
So do we get rid of the commercials and ads? Do we go to a system where the media are supported only by government?
How scary is that? That's as un-American as relying on public financing to pay for election campaigns. What a silly idea. But I digress …
Back to today's meandering thoughts: If media can claim to represent all their audience without favor, then a reporter can supplement his or her income by also taking money from the very people and interests he or she might be challenging in his or her day job. Should their bosses be the only fat cats?
So back to the question of where to draw the line. How about at simple-minded sanctimony?