George Will’s Ethical Lapses Bespeak Allegiance to Oligarchy

September 12th, 2014 · No Comments · campaign finance reform, Congress, inequality, journalism

By Arthur Alpert

The Albuquerque Journal just published still another George Will column (9/11) in which he upends history, common sense and rationality to argue for the interests of the American oligarchy.

That may not be coincidence. Will’s argument may be a quid pro quo for what his benefactors paid him.

Recently, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) “overhauled its Code of Ethics to include new transparency provisions” in response to 60 Minutes’ Benghazi debacle, CNN’s failure to disclose Newt Gingrich’s political ties and “Washington Post columnist George Will’s failure to disclose his ties to conservative group Americans for Prosperity.”

That’s from Joe Strupp’s Media Matters blog dated Sept. 9. Strupp wrote:

“Kevin Smith, outgoing SPJ ethics chair, told Media Matters the revisions were done in part to address the growing problems with transparency, including news outlets failing to disclose clear conflicts of interest.”

Specifically, Smith said, Will attending a private VIP dinner hosted by the Koch-backed conservative group Americans for Prosperity after spending months using his columns to champion the candidates and ideas favored by the Koch brothers and refusing to disclose whether his participation was paid was one of the “most noted examples” of recent transparency failures.”

In a Media Matters blog post Sept. 2, Zachary Pleat and Ellie Sandmeyer cited a number of Koch-supported candidates Will praised in recent columns.

They noted Will also boosted Koch-funded organizations including the Institute for Justice and the Goldwater Institute.

And Will also offered praise for U.S. District Judge Rudolph T. Randa, who halted a criminal investigation into possible illegal coordination between the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and outside groups during a recall election. Walker has benefited from more than $10 million in spending by AFP.

In a Sept. 3 blog post, Strupp quoted Ken Auletta, media writer for “The New Yorker”, who recalled a piece he wrote in 1994 about journalists’ speaking fees in which Will declined to discuss his income from such events.

Auletta said the issue should be viewed the same as a politician who takes money from interested parties.

“One basic way to approach this logically is to say what if you are the editor of a newspaper?” Auletta said. “What if a politician, a member of the House of Representatives, went before the pharmaceutical industry and he or she is chair of or a member of the health care committee and went before the pharmaceutical industry and didn’t disclose he was paid $20,000 for that appearance and didn’t disclose that he was given campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, what would you do? You’d put it on Page One.”

Well, no, not every newspaper would, Ken.

And to be fair, given the silence of Will, the Kochs and Koch front groups, we don’t know if Will was paid or how.

Of course, George Will’s unethical behavior is on the record. During the 1980 campaign, he secretly coached Republican candidate Ronald Reagan for a debate with President Jimmy Carter using a debate-briefing book stolen from the Carter campaign.

Immediately following the debate, Will appeared on Nightline (10/28/80) to praise Reagan’s “thoroughbred performance,” never disclosing his role in rehearsing that performance.

In the 2000 campaign he met with George W. Bush before the Republican candidate’s appearance on ABC’s “This Week”. Later, in a column (Washington Post, 3/4/01), Will admitted that he’d met with Bush to preview questions, not wanting to “ambush him with unfamiliar material.” In the meeting, Will provided Bush with a 3-by-5 card containing a crucial question he would later ask the candidate on the air.

That last is from a backgrounder written Sept. 1, 2003, dated but worth reading.

In recent years, environmentalists have called out Will more than once for misstating environmental data.

This year, in a June 6 Will column on “the supposed campus epidemic of rape,” Will wrote that “…when [colleges and universities] make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.”

It was widely criticized and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch dropped his column.

With that background, let’s return to today’s Will essay on his favorite theme, that the Founders meant to give free speech to non-human entities.

In fact, as the New York Times editorial board wrote on Thursday about the proposed constitutional  amendment on campaign spending “defines protected ‘speech’ as it had been understood in the First Amendment for 185 years until the Buckley decision: actual words uttered or written by natural persons, not money spent, and certainly not from corporate treasuries.”

Journalistically speaking, it matters that Will’s position jibes perfectly with the oligarchy’s; if legal fictions (corporations) enjoy freedom of speech, it becomes a commodity, the affluent outshout the rest of us and au revoir democracy.

That the Journal would enable Will’s argument is, of course, no surprise; management serves the same masters.

This surely explains, as well, why the editors hid Michael Coleman’s report on Sen. Tom Udall’s push to roll back the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision this past Tuesday on C2.


Also note the failure to put the Udall account adjacent to the Associated Press story identifying a few of Governor Martinez’s contributors including one Donald Rumsfeld of Taos and Koch industries of Kansas.

That, dear readers, is one reason editors exist, to tie stories hoping the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts.

It matters, too, that the Journal continues to publish Will’s views on speech to the exclusion of dissenting views.

And finally, it matters that our pro-transparency daily newspaper continues to publish the very opaque Mr. Will and does so without warning readers he knows ethics as well as he does the First Amendment.

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