In January and early February four American journalists came under fire to various degrees, as indicated by the number of Lexis-Nexis mentions over 31 days beginning Jan. 8: Armstrong Williams 1,133; Maggie Gallagher 238; Michael McManus 43; Eason Jordan 12.
The first three involve payment of thousands of dollars. The last is about the exchange of 30 pieces of silver, and so far mainstream media have largely ignored it.
Let's start with conservative columnist Williams, who found himself in trouble after news reports revealed he quietly took $241,000 from the U.S. Department of Education to promote its policies on his syndicated television and radio shows and newspaper column. Journalists called him a stealth propagandist, and his syndicate dropped him. A spokesman for Mr. Williams said he had no comment: "He's about getting his business back in order. . . . Things have just gotten a little out of control."
Soon after, reports surfaced that two other conservatives who write syndicated columns, Maggie Gallagher and Michael McManus, received $21,500 and $10,200, respectively, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Liberal journalists initially lumped the two in with Mr. Williams, but HHS was paying them for expertise, not punditry. Mr. McManus, for example, is the president of Marriage Savers, which has helped churches in many cities to cut the divorce rate by adopting a "Community Marriage Policy," and HHS was paying him to help organize other cities.
Both acknowledged that they should have disclosed their payments when they wrote columns supporting HHS marriage programs. Mr. McManus told his readers, "In retrospect, that was a clear conflict of interest. It was not by intent, but by omission. I am truly sorry. I ask your forgiveness." But their situation as experts was clearly not that of a columnist paid to publicize, and the mainstream media feeding frenzy ended during the first week of February.
The frenzy over a far more serious breach should have begun then, but did not. CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan, who had previously come under scrutiny by media ethicists when he acknowledged that his network covered up crimes of Saddam Hussein to protect its employees in Iraq, told an international audience on Jan. 27 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that U.S. troops had murdered some of the 63 journalists killed in Iraq since the war began.
Davos officials through Feb. 8 refused to release a video of the remarks, but Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who sat on the panel with Mr. Jordan, reported that the CNN head said "he knew of about 12 journalists who had not only been killed by American troops, but had been targeted as a matter of policy." Mr. Jordan offered no evidence, and his accusation, which he may have tried to take back later, was too much for Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), who was in the audience and said he was "outraged by the comments."
Bloggers have covered the story extensively, often accusing Mr. Jordan of giving aid and comfort to terrorists and their appeasers.
· with reporting by John Dawson