It is often said that the press is too dependent on the government it covers, but usually that saying describes an exchange of information, not cash. Right?
Not always. At least 30 members of the working press appear as paid guests or moderators on a worldwide television program and/or on radio programs produced by Charles Z. Wick's new-and-improved U.S. Information Agency. The USIA is being credited with impressive gains in its field, which is called propaganda.
Newsweek Washington bureau chief Morton Kondracke, Time Magazine correspondent Hugh Sidey, John McLaughlin of the McLaughlin Group and Paul Duke of the Public Broadcasting Service all have appeared as moderators of worldwide hour-long "news conferences" broadcast over USIA's Worldnet satellite system. The fee paid is $400, which is near the high end of the pay scale for television punditry.
Kondracke, who presided as moderator last week over a news conference in which Secretary of State George P. Shultz was questioned by participants in Ottawa, Tokyo, Brussels, Paris, Bonn, London and Rome, said he has no qualms about his paid excursions into government service. "It's not as though it was significantly adding to my income in such a way that I would be beholden to anybody. It seems to me it's now reasonably accepted in the journalism business that doing Voice of America, or Worldnet, is a patriotic thing to do . . . . You're not taking anybody's line."
He may be right about the "reasonably accepted" part. At least 25 others, including Fred Barnes of The New Republic, Norman Black of the Associated Press and syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer, appear on one or both of two taped Voice of America radio shows. "Press Conference USA" is, according to Pat Sowick of VOA Public Affairs, "patterned after" NBC News' "Meet the Press" or CBS News' "Face the Nation"; it pays $100 for a journalist to participate in a question-and-answer format presided over by a VOA moderator. "Issues in the News" hires journalists as moderators and participants. (The former get $150; the latter, $100.)
Participation in government programming is forbidden by some news organizations' rules. The Washington Post has such a policy; so, according to deputy Washington editor Howell Raines, does The New York Times. "My own feeling is that paid appearances for the government . . . are improper," he said. The Last Laff . . .
Among the many targets hit by former budget director David A. Stockman in his new book is supply-side economist Arthur Laffer, of Laffer Curve fame, who is said in the book to have been "glib" and "disingenuous" about the size of the federal deficit that followed President Reagan's 1981 tax cuts. So Laffer held a news conference in Los Angeles, just as the books were hitting the stores, to fire back.
"Funny thing about David Stockman," said Laffer. "He sat there at those meetings [of Reagan's Economic Advisory Board] and never said a word" about his growing suspicion that he had created a monster by drastically cutting taxes while raising military spending. Laffer went on to slam Stockman for disloyalty to the president he served. "He works for people and then betrays them . . . . It just shows the hostility that lives within David Stockman."
It can at least be said for Laffer that he has none of Stockman's inconsistency. Laffer closed his news conference with an avowal that the "Reagan revolution" is alive and well, asserting, "Since Stockman left office, the deficit has actually dropped from $300 billion to $150 billion."