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January 25, 2005
Gallagher: Not Another Williams

Drudge reported earlier tonight that conservative columnist Maggie Gallagher took money from the Department of Health and Human Services to promote George Bush's marriage initiatives, mirroring the Armstrong Williams scandal. Drudge got a head start on the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz and tried to scoop him.

Unfortunately, Drudge screwed up the report by excerpting passages out of context, and in doing so, created an unfortunate backlash against Maggie Gallagher. The real Kurtz report makes the differences between Gallagher and Williams clear:

Gallagher failed to mention that she had a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help promote the president's proposal. Her work under the contract, which ran from January through October 2002, included drafting a magazine article for the HHS official overseeing the initiative, writing brochures for the program and conducting a briefing for department officials. ...

Gallagher received an additional $20,000 from the Bush administration in 2002 and 2003 for writing a report, titled "Can Government Strengthen Marriage?", for a private organization called the National Fatherhood Initiative. That report, published last year, was funded by a Justice Department grant, said NFI spokesman Vincent DiCaro. Gallagher said she was "aware vaguely" that her work was federally funded. ...

"I don't see any comparison between what has been alleged with Armstrong Williams and what we did with Maggie Gallagher," said Horn, who founded the National Fatherhood Initiative before entering government. "We didn't pay her to write columns. We didn't pay her to promote the president's healthy marriage initiative at all. What we wanted to do was use her expertise."

Gallagher should have revealed her working relationship with HHS, both to her readers and her publishers. NRO editor Rich Lowry told Kurtz that he would have preferred to know about the relationship in order to include it in her bio on the site, and that's understandable. Moreover, I think Gallagher's glib response to the question of an ethical violation -- "I don't know, you tell me" -- shows a contempt for reality that damages her credibility more than her undisclosed consultancy for HHS.

However, unlike Armstrong Williams, Gallagher did not sell her column space to HHS, nor did she push others to cover the proposals or solicit positive commentary as a contractual duty. Gallagher wrote some of the brochures for the program, most of which went unused, and ghost-wrote an essay for program chief Wade Horn. She also spoke to program officials about marriage, which amounts to nothing much more than a stop on a lecture tour. She exercised some poor judgment and should apologize (which she already has), but it's a much different situation than Williams.

Full disclosure should be the lesson that pundits on all sides should take from this chapter. Don't wait for Kurtz, or especially Matt Drudge, to do it for you.

Note: Lest you think that I consider such arrangements as no big problem, here's what I wrote about Armstrong Williams.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! La Shawn Barber adds her thoughts, and says to the mainstream media, "Hire this thus-far-scandal-free conservative writer." Hell, hire me, too.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 25, 2005 11:04 PM

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