When it comes to journalistic ethics, I have never been a goody-goody, eat-your-spinach type. I don't get weepy when journalists are forced to testify about crimes they have witnessed, and I don't look to the Columbia Journalism School as some sort of secular Vatican. Journalism is a job, occasionally a calling, but never a priesthood.
So don't mistake anything I'm about to say as the sort of snooty righteousness we've come to expect from the Brahmins of the fourth estate. I'm disgusted with the whole scene. In one corner we have a print and TV commentator more or less secretly taking taxpayer money from the White House to shill for a piece of legislation during an election year. In his defense, he claims that he's not the only one to download lucre from the administration in exchange for advocacy. "This happens all the time," he said. But when David Corn of the Nation asked him who else does this sort of thing, Williams replied "I'm not going to defend myself that way."
Uh, Armstrong, you're not defending yourself. The "everybody does it" defense is no defense at all - a point someone who talks about character a lot should realize. But it is an offense - an offense to everybody he impugns with a vague accusation of corruption. I resent the insinuation, no matter how indirectly it's aimed at me. The White House - which at a minimum should be mortified - says this is an isolated event, and it probably is. Williams is, after all, a K-Street entrepreneur as much as he is - or was - a commentator. There just aren't that many Williams clones on the right. But, alas, the White House's word isn't good enough. Congress should investigate, and the media should rain FOIA requests on the White House to make sure nothing else like this is happening.
But while Williams' transgression is outrageous, I could do without all of the liberals doing their Captain Renault impersonations, proclaiming to be "shocked" that journalistic ethics are lapsing among conservatives. How much money did Paul Krugman take from Enron?
Yes, let's see how many more Armstrongs there are, but let's not ignore, say, Jesse Jackson, a syndicated columnist who had a TV show on CNN and now has one on cable. Jackson and his organizations have taken millions from Democratic administrations over the years, eliciting little more than yawns from the press. Of course, if Williams had disclosed fully his relationship with the White House, there'd be no scandal. Which does partially illuminate the irony of Paul Begala righteously grilling Williams on "Crossfire," even though Begala had remained on air as a TV host while he served as a Kerry campaign advisor.