Checkbook journalism rings up big bucks for politicos

Everybody knew the networks were practicing checkbook journalism, but who knew the checks were so big?

Paul Sperry, writing in today’s Investor’s Business Daily, reports that Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson was paid nearly half a million dollars by Fox News until he announced his candidacy.

Mike Huckabee’s payola was clearly labeled, but worth $500,000 a year? Fox also paid Rick Santorum $100,000 and John Kasich hauled in $265,000 a year, while doling out $1 million for a three-year deal with Sarah Palin.

The liberals at CNN do it too, contracting with Obama adviser David Axelrod to work as a commentator.

Who knows what made NBC think Chelsea Clinton was worth $600,000. Why that’s as much as three speeches from either of her parents.

The Society of Professional Journalists calls such checkbook “journalism” unethical for many good reasons — the foremost is that money corrupts and paying for information or sources corrupts journalism.

The SPJ Code of Ethic admonishes: “Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.”

The SPJ warns about getting into bidding wars, which, as a former editor with a strict budget, I can appreciate, even if the networks do not.

Here are a few other SPJ reasons why checkbook journalism is vile:

First, paying for information immediately calls into question the credibility of the information. …

Creating a market for information that sells also raises the possibility that entrepreneurs looking to make money will create their own news, staging or inventing stories to attract the big checks.

Second, paying for information creates a conflict of interest. By writing a check for an interview, the journalist now has a business relationship with the source. Asking tough questions, examining the motives, weighing the credibility of a source — all of these journalistic functions become intricately more complicated when the source is someone receiving money for a story.

And third, once a media outlet has paid for information, it is less likely to continue to search for the details of the story for fear it might uncover conflicting information.

A source who chooses to tell a story and tell it exclusively should want to choose the reporter who has the clearest record of demonstrated competence rather than the one waving the largest check.

While it is true that journalism is a capitalistic endeavor and money must be made, being first and being exclusive should never be the primary motive of journalists. The primary motive always should be an accurate report.

There is a market for credibility. Once you’ve sold that, you’ve entered the world’s oldest profession.




Perhaps ethics complaint against Reid should be updated

I mentioned the other day that a conservative-leaning watchdog group had filed a letter of complaint with the Senate ethics panel concerning acts by Nevada senior Sen. Harry Reid that constituted a conflict of interest.

The group, Cause of Action, pointed out that Reid and his staff urged the head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to grant special EB-5 visas to a group of Asians planning to invest in the renovation of the old Sahara Hotel, now called SLS Las Vegas. Such visas are granted to foreigners who invest more than $500,000 in American projects that create jobs. The agency had turned down the visa applications due to “suspicious financial activity.” Though that decision was ineligible for appeal, the head of the agency reversed it.

Alejandro Mayorkas

Cause of Action noted that Reid’s son Rory and his law firm, Lionel, Sawyer & Collins are legal counsel to SLS and Senate rules demand that senators avoid conflicts of political, personal or financial interest.

Perhaps, Cause of Action should amend its letter. Four days after filing the complaint, the Senate voted to confirm the nomination of the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Alejandro Mayorkas, to become the second in command at the Department of Homeland Security. The vote was 54-41.

Had Reid not just changed the Senate rules the nomination would have failed to achieve the previously required 60 votes.

Mayorkas was confirmed despite the fact he was under investigation at the the time for — wait for it —  expediting EB-5 visa applications for certain applicants despite the rejection of those visas by career staffers. Among those seeking foreign investors were now-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the brother of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Anthony Rodham. They were after visas for investors in an energy-efficient car company.

Do you see a pattern?

Career staffers reject visas for foreign investors in a Las Vegas hotel project represented by the senator’s son. The senator makes a personal call to Mayorkas, according to an email obtained by The Washington Times, and Mayorkas promises the senator his agency would take a “fresh look” at the visa request. Fresh look results in visas being expedited. Hotel project has groundbreaking. Senator changes filibuster rules for presidential nominees so only a simple majority is required. Fresh looker wins confirmation on a simple majority vote.

The Latin term is quid pro quo, something for something.

So far as I can find, no Las Vegas news media outlet has bothered to report on the ethics complaint against Reid, which was filed in mid-December.

Perhaps the state Gaming Control Board should investigate the SLS foreign investors’ “suspicious financial activity.”