Monday, December 19, 2005

“This Pen for Hire”

“It’s OK to satirize the President, as long as you do so with respect.”
- Memo from CBS censors to the Smothers brothers, 1967

Dear President Bush,

We have not yet received payment for the columns you ordered. If you will check the record, my “Spineless Democrats” column ran on July 17 of this year, and on November 14, I published a column attacking Sen. Harry Reid, per your request. In accordance with the terms of our contract, no reference to White House sponsorship was included in the articles. In the event that our original billing was misplaced, a second invoice is attached.

At the time of our original discussion, $1,000 each for the columns seemed reasonable, and in line with my usual fee in these matters. Since then, however, disclosures in the press indicate that I am being compensated for my efforts at well below the going market rate.

Specifically, it has been revealed that my colleague Armstrong Williams, a black conservative, received $240,000 from the U.S. Dept. of Education and the Ketchum public relations firm to advocate for your “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) program. That is approximately one hundred twenty times what I am slated to receive.

I recognize that although Mr. Williams’s contract required him to write a number of opinion columns supporting NCLB, it also required that he comment favorably on the program on his nationally syndicated television and radio shows (“The Right Side”). He was also expected to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige, and to attempt to persuade other black journalists to interview Secretary Paige and promote your NCLB policy.

So it could be argued that Mr. Williams was paid more because he was being hired for a variety of additional services. However, I had already indicated my willingness to write additional columns, appear on FOX News talk shows, and ask embarrassing questions during interviews with various liberal political figures.

In addition, syndicated columnist Doug Bandow is now alleged to have received substantial payments from Republican fundraiser and lobbyist Jack Abramoff to write somewhere between a dozen and two dozen positive stories about Abramoff's clients, at $2,000 a column. You promised to put me in touch with Mr. Abramoff to see if he had additional clients I could promote, but he was repeatedly “out of the office” or “unavailable to take your call” when I attempted to contact him.

And, as you may recall, conservative columnist Maggie Gallagher got $21,500 from your Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to advocate for your ideas on marriage. Ms. Gallagher, after having been condemned for receiving unreported payments from your administration, wrote in a subsequent column that she would have informed readers of the payments if she had just remembered them. I can assure you that I will remember whether or not you pay me $21,500.

Likewise, conservative columnist Mike McManus received $10,000 from DHHS for promoting the same cause in his syndicated column, 'Ethics & Religion,' which appears in fifty newspapers. It is unfortunate for his column that his failure to mention he was being paid to promote the cause was widely seen as an ethical lapse.

As revelations of your administration’s bribery of the press continue to emerge, I have been shocked—just shocked—at how much I have been underpaid. A free press cannot be bought on the cheap.

You seem to have realized this in Iraq, where your military leaders spent $20 million, much of it to bribe journalists and publishers, in a two-month campaign to plant stories favorable to the U.S. in Iraqi media. I must say that, as an American citizen, I resent those funds going to Iraqis, when a host of journalists at home would have been more than happy to generate favorable news for payments on that scale.

In light of your administration’s payments to Mr. Williams, Ms. Gallagher, Mr. McManus, and a bevy of Iraqi journalists, the $2,000 for which I contracted is clearly inadequate compensation, totally inconsistent with the stature and wide readership of my work.

If you have already sent payment, and our correspondence has crossed in the mail, please disregard this letter.


Tony Russell

P.S. This is your last chance to order columns at the current rate. Starting January 1, the price for a standard promotional column will rise to $2,000. Graphs, charts, photos, and other supplements will cost an additional 10%. We regret this increase, but a price restructuring was necessary to remain competitive in a rapidly changing market.

P.P.S. Remember that Christmas is less than a week away. Order gift columns now for your cabinet secretaries, allies, and campaign contributors. They make the perfect gift!

P.P.P.S. Note my return address. Any correspondence or payments should be sent to my personal post office box rather than care of the Hur Herald, as the owner/publisher/editor is inclined to be old-fashioned in these matters.

1 comment:

Tony Russell said...

There is no question after "the following question." I did check out your blogsite. You seem to be widely read, with interests at the intersection of religion, politics, and economics. Although I've read a number of the books on your list, I suspect we're at widely different points on the political spectrum. But I would highly recommend Peter Singer's book The President for Good and Evil, which is a thorough, even meticulous examination of the intersection of ethics and politics in the current presidency.