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March 27, 2005

Why Can't Reporters Work for Government?

I'm the last person to be in favor of government hiring non-government employees for government work, but I think blogger worries about freelance reporters also receiving money on the side for government projects is overblown.

Armstrong Williams being paid by the government to say specific things on his talk show was an obvious ethical violation, especially since he didn't tell his listeners what he was doing.

But a freelance reporter picking up occasional work from a government agency to pay the bills just doesn't give me coniptions. Of course, you worry that government money might influence such a reporter not to piss off the government too much for fear of losing their money, but given the craveness of the media generally, I hardly think it's the individual reporter driving what gets on TV in the end.

Everybody Does It: And let's be real. Scientists and other academics receiving government grants, as well as non-profits receiving partial funding from the government face the issue all the time. It's actually a pretty rightwing idea to say that only groups with no opinions or advocacy goals can receive government money.

Folks on the left should be careful going too far on slamming who receives government funds. I can see the GOP happily passing a nice law saying that only groups involved in no political or social advocacy of any kind may receive such money.

Poof- no more money for Planned Parenthood and no money for a whole range of progressive organizations that combine direct service provision, with funds from the feds, with political advocacy.

Don't Go There: So this is the wrong drum for progressives to be banging. The rule is simple. The government can't directly fund propaganda through covert channels, but it's perfectly acceptable for people engaged in advocacy to receive money from the government, as long as that advocacy itself isn't funded by the government. Sure, this means government can throw funds to allies that help them cope financially, but the answer is to get better processes of peer review and civil service protection for those handing out the government grants, not attacking those who received the government money.

Posted by Nathan at March 27, 2005 01:00 PM