The chattering class has sore jaws over this one. First Armstrong Williams' quarter-mill for promoting No Child Left Behind, and now Maggie Gallagher is getting flamed for taking $20K for "healthy" marriages. MoDo is offering her own space for sale to promote administration policies. And GW himself, after increasing ad and PR funds by $24 mill over Clinton, has decided that it's time to stop paying commentators for comments.
My kneejerk to all this is that it's terrible and unethical and bad, bad, bad for people to take money from government to promote government policies. Or that it's terrible and unethical and bad to not disclose that they're taking such money. But then I'm not so sure.
I've long complained that it's difficult for government to sell the public on policies without being permitted a huge advertising budget. And if government could promote itself in the same ways that Nike and Exxon and Ben & Jerrys do, then maybe people wouldn't hate government so much and maybe we could build widespread support for particular policies. Propaganda! Outrageous! Well, of course, but also very effective, and frankly much needed in this crowded age of less news and more opinion.
Really, it's not so surprising that people who believe a certain thing are happy to accept money to say what they were going to say anyway. How does this differ from the standard lecture circuit, where bigwigs get paid big bucks to say what they already believe? Is it because the money comes from the government and not some other source? Is it because we know lecturers are being paid and we expect pundits not to be? Are either of those complaints really legitimate?
Food for thought. Or cash for comments.