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February 14, 2005
More Payola?

Howard Kurtz reveals that not all pundit-payola comes from inside the Beltway. In his lead entry for today's Media Notes, Kurtz reports that the Democrats have paid advocacy journalists who failed to reveal their funding:

Eric Wesson, a columnist for the Call, an African American newspaper in Kansas City, offered plenty of praise last year for the successful House bid of Democrat Emanuel Cleaver. "Rev. Cleaver," he wrote, "has the experience to get things done and getting people to work together, he unites people. . . . Rev. Cleaver is a master at getting others to see his vision and surrounding himself with role players to make the vision become a reality. . . . I admire his honesty."

Cleaver's campaign last summer paid $1,500 to a firm called One Goal Consultants. And the sole owner of One Goal Consultants, according to state records, is Wesson.

"I wrote out some phone scripts for his phone banks," Wesson says. "I think I did about 50 of them and some other miscellaneous things. It had nothing to do with the job I do for the Call. The Call has always written articles favorable to African American candidates. We're an advocacy newspaper."

Readers of the Call, however, were unaware that Wesson was getting cash from the campaign. "Should I have disclosed it in my articles? I don't know," says Wesson. "Would it have made any difference?"

It depends on what Wesson's readers thought. Would they have thought less of Wesson's written defense of Cleaver when the candidate faced accusations of impropriety regarding a state loan? Perhaps, and that's the point. Failure to disclose significant connections between the journalist/pundit and the subject of their articles implies that the former has something to hide. That's true for Armstrong Williams, and it's true for Wesson as well.

This case differs in one regard: Wesson didn't get money from the government, but from the candidate. That doesn't make Wesson any less liable for failing to disclose a conflict of interest, but it makes the payment somewhat less of an issue. The money came from people contributing funds voluntarily, and presumably spent in a manner that supports their overall purpose in donating them. Williams took taxpayer money specifically to use his column to push a government program, which to me is much more egregious.

That doesn't let Wesson off the hook. He acted dishonestly and broke trust with his readers, who had a reasonable expectation that his work was independent of the campaign. Wesson should apologize and quit acting as if he did nothing wrong, but that should be the end of it.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 14, 2005 2:38 PM

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