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On the take

Crap. I’m sure admitting that shilling for sleazebag Jack Abramoff’s clients can’t possibly look good on a resume, especially if you’re a newspaper columnist. And doubly so if you were being PAID by Abramoff. Howard Kurtz in the WaPo thinks a recent admission by two columnists could represent the tip of the pay-for-play iceberg.

Copley News Service last week dropped Doug Bandow — who also resigned as a Cato Institute scholar — after he acknowledged taking as much as $2,000 a pop from Abramoff for up to two dozen columns favorable to the lobbyist’s clients. “I am fully responsible and I won’t play victim,” Bandow said in a statement after Business Week broke the story. “Obviously, I regret stupidly calling to question my record of activism and writing that extends over 20 years. . . . For that I deeply apologize.”

Peter Ferrara of the Institute for Policy Innovation has acknowledged taking payments years ago from a half-dozen lobbyists, including Abramoff. Two of his papers, the Washington Times and Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader, have now dropped him. But Ferrara is unapologetic, saying: “There is nothing unethical about taking money from someone and writing an article.”

Readers might disagree on grounds that they have no way of knowing about such undisclosed payments, which seem to be an increasingly common tactic for companies trying to influence public debate through ostensibly neutral third parties.

When you have an attitude like Ferrera’s it’s clear that there’s no sense of shame, which Glenn Reynolds (he’s quoted in the article) seems to think is enough to quell the practice. The ethical bar has dropped so low in too many cases in the press that just about anything goes. They are too beholden to demanding corporate masters, feed on access to power, and are drowning in their own personal ambition (sigh, Woodward). It’s no surprise that this is the end product — readers at least deserve transparency.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding