Federal Payola: Journalists Aren’t Special

If you don’t think columnists should receive federal grant money, read this or one of the other studies and papers about the conservative/GOP “Truth in Testimony” proposal that was informally associated with the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” and was considered a highly-controversial, ultra-radical (maybe even downright nasty) right-wing plot when the GOP unveiled it.

I might be remembering wrong, but as I recall, when conservative Republicans in the mid-1990s tried to get taxpayer-funded organizations to disclose the specifics of their conflict of interest when testifying before Congress, the mainstream media did not stand on the side of disclosure.

Why not?

Here’s an excerpt of the study, published by the Heritage Foundation in 1996, that I cited above:

Committee hearings can serve to educate the public by allowing a range of views to be presented and questioned. Indeed, congressional hearings often are the focus of national media reports. When these sessions are stacked in favor of continuing or expanding government programs, they give media access and prestige to those who believe that for every problem, there is a federal solution. Further, when the witnesses — and Congress itself — fail to reveal the self-interested nature of a spending advocate’s testimony, they convey a misleading picture to the public.

Consider, for example, the fight over funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Almost all of the witnesses at a February 29, 1996, House Commerce Committee hearing were financially dependent on federal tax dollars, and each predictably called for greater federal spending for public broadcasting…

Another of many such examples is a hearing on welfare reform held by the House Ways and Means Committee on February 2, 1995. Of the 65 witnesses who testified, 18 were from organizations that received federal grants, including five state and local officials who acknowledged that their agencies depend on federal funds. Apparently, none of the other 13 witnesses — from groups such as the National Council of La Raza, the National Senior Citizens Law Center, the Service Employees International Union, the National Center for Family Literacy, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Public Voice for Food and Health Policy — thought that it relevant to mention their grants from the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Education, or the fact that their funding might have been in jeopardy. This scenario is repeated all too often, from Superfund reform to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, welfare reform, job training programs, and a host of other taxpayer-funded efforts…

Journalists aren’t special (sorry, journalists!). If you should disclose a possible conflict of interest when writing an opinion column, you sure as heck should if you are testifying before Congress.

Or, better yet, decide to stop taking federal money.

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