A few weeks back, news broke about the Washington Post essentially trying to sell favorable coverage to the health care industry in exchange for $250,000 checks. The sickening mix of power, fame, and fortune that is the beltway media stew essentially shrugged this story off; it was the fault of a new account manager, and didn’t really reflect on the ethics of Village Journalism.
Saturday, Glen Greenwald and Ana Marie Cox noted that Richard Wolffe has left the practice of journalism to join the staff of Public Strategies, Inc, a public relations firm headed by former Bush Communications Director Dan Bartlett.
Public Strategies is contracted to provide services to several companies or organizations that have a direct stake in the outcome of the health care debate. Public Strategies advertises its effectiveness by citing its success in defeating property insurance reform in Texas:
"The insurance industry was under fire in Texas for raising rates and suspending sales of new homeowner policies due to a significant increase in mold claims. Policyholders, consumer groups, and legislators representing both sides of the aisle were calling for a rate freeze and further regulation of practices such as credit scoring.
Despite entering the 2003 Texas legislative cycle with significant opposition on both sides of the aisle, insurance industry-supported legislation passed through the legislature free of mandatory rate reductions and any limitations on credit scoring."
Wolffe has reported, or commented on, health care reform for Countdown on numerous occasions. He has interviewed Obama confidant David Axelrod. Wolffe asked Axelrod banal questions like, "Have you lost control of the framing of this debate?" without disclosing that his full-time employer had accepted $60,000 in 2009 to represent the interests of Bristol-Myers-Squibb, one of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies.
Further, Wolffe didn’t mention the fact that the US Chamber of Commerce, which is leading the charge against health care reform, paid his employer $60,000 to represent their interests. On July 21st, Wolffe parroted Chamber talking points as an "analyst" on Countdown:
"I mean, one of the worst numbers he has is on his handling of health care. Well which piece of health care? It‘s so vague and nebulous. I think, at this point—at this moment, it‘s really processy (ph) to focus on approval ratings for issues people don‘t fully understand."
This is just business as usual in Washington. People like Wolffe, who may have entered journalism for the right reason, but have become famous, wealthy, and influential and forget the real purpose of journalism: to accurately inform the public about the objective truth.
Though it’s hard to blame individuals like Wolffe for the rot of the beltway Village Media culture. It’s a small step to go from accepting expensive cocktails and h’orderves in order to "maintain access" to office holders to accepting a high paying job at a lobbying firm and then proceeding to report on issues which directly affect clients of your firm. Inside Washington, where everybody is chummy with each other, and where status matters more than results, there is nothing wrong with this unethical behavior.
But out here in the real world–far away from the soothing music. fine wine, and cheese plates of Washington cocktail parties–unethical behavior like the behavior of Wolffe is one of the main reasons we do not trust the media. We want to be told the actual truth–if there is a bill which has been released, we want the specifics of it to be summarized. Instead, corrupt "journalists" like Wolffe tell us the bill is vague and nebulous. It works out great for "journalists" like Wolffe. They don’t have to work (i.e. read the bill) and they get paid handsomely by industry financiers who are happy to have cronies in the media.