There seems to be an epidemic of conservative columnists being paid by the Bush Administration to publicize its initiatives?first Armstrong Williams, then Maggie Gallagher, now Michael McManus. The facts of these cases are different, but all have been lumped together in media reports. The implication is that conservative columnists are ?on the take.? The goal is to simultaneously undermine the Bush Administration, its initiatives, and the small band of conservatives who appear in the mainstream media.
I suppose I should start with myself. Back in the early 1980s, I did some consulting work for the Agency for International Development to write a study of taxation in developing countries. I worked on the White House staff in the late 1980s and at the Treasury Department during the administration of George H.W. Bush. Since then, I have not gotten a government check for anything except the occasional tax refund.
In short, since I began my column in 1995, I have done no consulting work for the government, either in terms of general public relations, as in the case of Williams, or for specific products, as was the case with Gallagher and McManus. In the interest of full disclosure, however, I have had a couple of lunches in the White House Mess, courtesy of those with Mess privileges.
Having said that, there is a larger question here. Is there any reason to believe that Williams, Gallagher or McManus changed their positions in some way favorable to the administration as the result of whatever largess they received? The answer, clearly, is no. They supported the initiatives they were paid to work on long before receiving any sort of government contract. And it is highly unlikely that they took these positions in the hopes of receiving such contracts, since in each case their positions long predate the election of Mr. Bush.
If one could show some evidence of a change in opinion or emphasis before and after receipt of the contract, perhaps there would be a case for dismissal from the community of columnists. But there is no evidence of that. It is clear that in each case, the contract was given precisely because the columnist was already a supporter of Mr. Bush?s policies.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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