Columnists' errors, CNN's treason

Posted: Feb 10, 2005 12:00 AM

A journalistic scandal involving payment of thousands of dollars has received massive attention in the mainstream media. One concerning the exchange of 30 pieces of silver has not, so far.

 In January and early February, four American journalists came under fire to various degrees, as indicated by the number of Lexis-Nexis mentions during the month beginning Jan. 8: Armstrong Williams, 1,133; Maggie Gallagher, 238; Michael McManus, 43; Eason Jordan, 12.

 Let's start with conservative columnist Williams, who found himself in trouble after news reports revealed he quietly took $241,000 from the U.S. Department of Education to promote its policies on his syndicated television and radio shows and newspaper column. Journalists called him a stealth propagandist, and his syndicate dropped him. A spokesman for Williams said he had no comment: "He's about getting his business back in order. ? Things have just gotten a little out of control."

 Indeed they had. Williams erred and has been damned in the press, but he strongly believes in improving education, particularly in inner cities, and let's hope he'll be back in some fighting capacity, this time with all financial information disclosed.

 Two other conservatives who write syndicated columns, Maggie Gallagher and Michael McManus, have also been outed for receiving $21,500 and $10,200, respectively, from the Department of Health and Human Services. Liberal journalists initially lumped the two in with Williams, but HHS was paying them for expertise, not punditry.

 McManus, for example, is the president of Marriage Savers, which has helped churches in many cities to cut the divorce rate by adopting a "Community Marriage Policy," and HHS was paying him to help organize other cities. He told his readers: "In retrospect, that was a clear conflict of interest. It was not by intent, but by omission. I am truly sorry. I ask your forgiveness."

 That should be granted. Both columnists acknowledged that they should have disclosed their payments when they wrote columns supporting HHS marriage programs -- but their situation as experts was clearly not that of a columnist paid to publicize, and the mainstream media feeding frenzy ended during the first week of February.

 The frenzy over a far more serious breach should have begun then, but did not. CNN's Eason Jordan, who had previously come under scrutiny by media ethicists when he acknowledged that his network covered up crimes of Saddam Hussein to protect its employees in Iraq, told an international audience on Jan. 27 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that U.S. troops had murdered some of the 63 journalists killed in Iraq since the war began.

 Davos officials through Feb. 8 refused to release a video of the remarks, but Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who sat on the panel with Jordan, reported that the CNN head said "he knew of about 12 journalists who had not only been killed by American troops, but had been targeted as a matter of policy."

 Jordan offered no evidence, and his accusation, which he may have tried to take back later, was too much for Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who was in the audience and said he was "outraged by the comments."

 Bloggers have reported the story extensively, often accusing Jordan of giving aid and comfort to terrorists and their appeasers. This is the type of story that's harder to cover than one in which dollars clearly change hands, but it may be a more subtle form of bribery. Fox is beating CNN in the United States, but CNN is No. 1 around the world and wants to stay that way. What better way than to kiss up to Europeans and Middle Easterners than by telling them what they want to believe about those awful Americans?

 The establishment media, instead of circling wagons to protect one of their own, should investigate. If anyone has evidence of soldiers knowingly targeting journalists, let's hear it. If there is no evidence, Jordan should clearly and loudly apologize, and CNN should stop giving aid and comfort to the enemy.