Friday, February 04, 2005

Dear Ms. Gallagher:

Thank you for writing to the Washington Post today explaining why you accepted money from the Department of Health and Human Services and then did not disclose it, even though you wrote a regularly syndicated newspaper column.

In your letter, you say:

It is not uncommon or unethical for experts to be paid by the government for work in their field of expertise.

Until today, researchers and scholars have not generally been expected to disclose a government-funded research project in the past, when they later wrote about their field of expertise in the popular press or in scholarly journals.

For these reasons, it never occurred to me that I needed to disclose this information. I had no intention or motive to hide my work from anyone. It was simply a mistake, which I have acknowledged.

Thank you for acknowledging your mistake. Please allow me to direct you to an entry from our recent publication, "Ethics for the Clueless," that may help explain our position further:

There is nothing inherently wrong with a person -- any person, be he or she academic or mechanic, pontiff or plumber -- from submitting op-ed pieces to the press. Such pieces run on their merits, and they usually include a fairly substantial piece of identification at the beginning or the end describing who the person is. This information helps the reader make judgments about the information and the positions presented. One would normally expect gifts, gratuities, employment, etc., to be disclosed in these blurbs.

Once one becomes a syndicated columnist, however, one has bitten from the journalism apple and is no longer naked. Now, your missives come with merely the "signer" of the syndicate. No longer is there a lengthy description of your position. You become one among many, and so any conflicts of interest, potential or real, tend to be subsumed under the "columnist" byline.

Because of this, arguments such as "I was only an academic, and we customarily get paid for consulting" or "I didn't know it was wrong" or "it's my business, and I don't mix that with my journalism" are disingenuous at best and basically patently stupid.

We wish you all the best for your future career. Unfortunately, we do not have any positions in journalism open at this time that meet your skills -- nor do we expect any in the near, or distant, future.

Yours truly,


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