Wednesday, February 02, 2005

This space for sale

Well, not really.

But I am here to announce that I have not been paid by the Education Department, Health and Human Services or the Upper Darby Soil and Water Conservation District to write about No Child Left Behind, trad marriage or the benefits of celibacy on the woodchuck.

Not so say that for the right price ...

Oops. Sorry. Slipped there for a moment.

As DeWayne Wickham writes in USAToday, "Maggie Gallagher and Mike McManus don't get it." The two have issued lengthy equivocations about why, being columnists who also have an apparently thriving (if sucking off the government teat is the definition in this case) other life, they really didn't do anything wrong by mixing the two.

(OK, I get a state salary because I work for a state university -- which is why state politics is one of the things I won't touch unless it involves some insight into the workings of the media and generally is outside this state.)

Armstrong Williams seems to get it but not get it, vacillating between apology for taking the Education Department money and then turning around and doing the "What, me a journalist?" routine.

As Wickham writes:

Their (Gallagher's and McManus') defiance is fueled by the media's whiplash response to what they did. Williams was widely bashed, and his column was dropped by its syndicator, Tribune Media Services. No such fate has befallen Gallagher and McManus. And that ultimately may prove to be a bigger problem.

"Journalism will become a profession the moment it grows difficult to become a journalist," H.L. Mencken wrote in 1924. Thus far, that hasn't happened. Journalism today is awash with cross-dressers — people who, one moment, show up on TV or op-ed pages as commentators and columnists, and then quickly morph into the role of activists or politicians. The people who employ them are as much to blame for this as these flip-floppers.

'Competing loyalties'

I don't mean to suggest that only journalism school graduates should be allowed to become journalists. To the contrary, journalism is enriched when news organizations hire people from a wide range of educational, racial and ideological backgrounds. But when someone who assumes the role of a journalist also works to promote the interests of others outside the media, he or she blurs the line that separates journalists from carnival barkers.

I have just three words to say to Mr. Wickham: You nailed it!


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