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Bush Presses Editors on Security
Readers might disagree on grounds that they have no way of knowing about such undisclosed payments, which seem to be an increasingly common tactic for companies trying to influence public debate through ostensibly neutral third parties. When he was a Washington lawyer several years ago, says law professor Glenn Reynolds, a telecommunications carrier offered him a fat paycheck -- up to $20,000, he believes -- to write an opinion piece favorable to its position. He declined.
In the case of Bandow's columns, says Reynolds, who now writes the InstaPundit blog, "one argument is, it's probably something he thought anyway, but it doesn't pass the smell test to me. I wouldn't necessarily call it criminal, but it seems wrong. People want to craft a rule, but what you really need is a sense of shame."
Jonathan Adler, an associate law professor and National Review contributor, wrote that when he worked at a think tank, "I was offered cash payments to write op-eds on particular topics by PR firms, lobbyists or corporations several times. They offered $1,000 or more for an op-ed," offers that Adler rejected. Blogger Rand Simberg writes that "I've also declined offers of money to write specific pieces, even though I agreed with the sentiment."
Two years ago, former Michigan senator Don Riegle wrote an op-ed attacking Visa and MasterCard without disclosing that his PR firm was representing Wal-Mart -- which was suing the two credit card companies.
Porn, Privacy and Participation
Kurt Eichenwald says he knew he would take heat for his decision to urge a teenager involved in child pornography to give up the business and cooperate with federal investigators.
"We are sitting there facing a horrible reality," the New York Times reporter says. "Every day I'm sitting there working on the story, there are children being molested and exploited, and we have a source who knows who and where they are."
The lengthy Times report last week on Justin Berry, now 19, whose cooperation with the Justice Department has led to several arrests, was remarkable, not least because it was Eichenwald who persuaded the young man to give up drugs and stop performing sexual acts for paying customers in front of a webcam -- and even referred him to a lawyer. The reporter clearly crossed the line from observer to participant.
"I knew our profession would look at this and say this was a troubling result," Eichenwald says. "But every result was troubling. I'm interviewing a kid and he suddenly starts naming children and telling me where they are and what's happening to them. He knew which kid was under the control of which pedophile."
Slate media critic Jack Shafer is among those who have raised questions, writing: "Would a Times reporter extend similar assistance to an 18-year-old female prostitute? An 18-year-old fence? A seller of illegal guns? No way. . . . Will online pornographers and other allied criminals now regard reporters as agents of the state?"
At a July meeting with top editors and company lawyers, Eichenwald says, Executive Editor Bill Keller said that " 'we've got to do the right thing.' . . . It would have been easier to come up with all sorts of explanations of why we should walk away."
Eichenwald says he had to persuade Berry, an abused child who was lured into performing for the webcam when he was 13, to get out of the porn business and give up drugs for him to be useful as a source for the paper. The reporter says he personally provided information to the FBI about a 15-year-old boy being lured to a Las Vegas hotel by Berry's 38-year-old business partner, who was arrested before the planned rendezvous.
"I knew we'd be criticized for getting a source to become a federal witness," Eichenwald says. But he says he's had nightmares and, as a father, feels "an enormous amount of guilt" about other children in the porn ring that he did not try to help.
If all this sounds like a movie, Eichenwald got calls from Hollywood within hours.
"The image consultant said, 'You've got to stop wearing those turtlenecks. I think you've got to start showing some cleavage.' I told her I didn't think America was ready for that." -- ABC's Judy Muller, quoted by Amy Tenowich in a Los Angeles Daily News column on female journalists baring more skin.