Maggie Gallagher Doesn’t = Armstrong Williams

It has now been revealed that syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher was talking up George Bush’s marriage initiative at the same time she was being paid $21,500 by the Department of Health and Human Services for work she was doing on the program. Naturally, the comparisons to Armstrong Williams have already started, but truth be told, they’re not comparable situations.

First off, Williams was paid to promote No Child Left Behind and did so on his radio show without properly informing his listeners. That means they were unknowingly getting an infomercial when they believed they were just hearing Williams’ opinion.

That is not what happened with Maggie Gallagher. In her latest column, Gallagher explains the deal she had with Health and Human Services…

“First the facts. In 2001, the Department of Health and Human Services approached me to do some work on marriage issues for the government, including a presentation of the social science evidence on the benefits of marriage for HHS regional managers, to draft an essay for Wade Horn, assistant secretary of HHS, on how government can strengthen marriage, and to prepare drafts of community brochures: “The Top Ten Reasons Marriage Matters,” stuff like that.

The contract reads: “ACF (Administration for Children and Families, part of HHS) is pursuing research to create knowledge about the dynamics of marriage among low-income populations, and potential strategies states might pursue to strengthen marriage. ACF needs additional expertise to accomplish this work.

“Statement of work: The contractor shall consult with and assist ACF in ongoing work related to strengthening marriage, and provide assistance advice on development of new research activities in this area. The contractor shall perform a variety of activities including (but not limited to) providing information on the programs to strengthen marriage, advising on the dissemination of materials, and participating in meetings and workshops.”

The contract did not authorize a general consulting fee. Instead it authorized payment for actual work performed, to be submitted and approved via separate invoice.

By my records, I was paid $21,500 from HHS in 2002.

…I’m a marriage expert. I get paid to write, edit, research and educate on marriage. If a scholar or expert gets paid to do some work for the government, should he or she disclose that if he writes a paper, essay or op-ed on the same or similar subject? If this is the ethical standard, it is an entirely new standard.

I was not paid to promote marriage. I was paid to produce particular research and writing products (articles, brochures, presentations), which I produced. My lifelong experience in marriage research, public education and advocacy is the reason HHS hired me.”

See? Armstrong Williams was paid to influence his listeners and did so without their knowledge. On the other hand, Gallagher was hired to do research and write “articles, brochures, presentations”. Ethically, there’s a world of difference between those two things.

Now, that’s not to say that Gallagher should have kept mum about her contracting work with the Department of Health and Human Services when she was writing columns related on the subject. She SHOULD HAVE revealed that information.

However, I find it to be more than a little bit hypocritical for people to get up in arms about this when the very guy who broke the story, Howard Kurtz, has written about companies he worked for without disclosing their relationship time and time again in the past with little comment from anyone other than Mickey Kaus.

From Kaus, via Glenn Reynolds

“A quick search of a popular electronic database–never lie to a man with NEXIS!–turned up the following, just within the past year :

On Dec. 20, 1999, Kurtz wrote about networks, in particular CNN, that lock up “exclusive national rights” to debates between presidential candidates and then shut out competing reporters. Frank Sesno, CNN’s Washington bureau chief, was quoted defending the practice. There was no disclosure of Kurtz’s CNN connection.

On Nov. 18, 1999, Kurtz wrote about an alliance between one of his employers, the Washington Post, and MSNBC, one of CNN’s competitors. Kurtz noted that MSNBC “has been struggling,” its ratings having “dropped 20 percent.” Kurtz also noted, “By comparison, CNN’s ratings dropped 33 percent.” (So why wasn’t CNN “struggling” too?) No mention of Kurtz’s CNN connection.

On Oct. 11. 1999, Kurtz wrote an item about CNN rejecting a commercial from Salon.com. No disclosure.

On Sept. 7, 1999, Kurtz wrote a profile of Rupert Murdoch that touched on the feud between Murdoch and CNN founder Ted Turner, a man who could presumably end Kurtz’s CNN career with one well-placed phone call. No disclosure.

On Oct. 18, 1999, Kurtz wrote about Turner’s attempts to lure a Wall Street Journal editor to CNNfn to replace Lou Dobbs. Nope.

That’s just what I found within the past year. I didn’t even check what Kurtz might have written about all the other parts of Time Warner, which owns CNN. I did notice that when the Time Warner empire merged with AOL early this year, Kurtz wrote an item affectionately tweaking Time magazine for being very tough on its corporate parent in its coverage. There was no disclosure that Kurtz also works for Time Warner.”

So again, Gallagher SHOULD HAVE disclosed that she was doing work for the Department of Health and Human Services when she wrote columns about the Bush marriage initiative, but let’s not go overboard just because the Armstrong Williams incident wasn’t that long ago and people are particularly sensitive about this issue. As far as I’m concerned, Gallagher’s apology for this should be the end of the “controversy”…

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