Washington Babylon — June 13, 2008, 11:19 am

Former NPR Ombudsman On Journalists and Speaking Gigs

Jeffrey Dvorkin, Executive Director of Journalism at The Real News Network and a former NPR Ombudsman, writes about my recent stories on David Broder and Bob Woodward:

Good point on journalists and speaking fees. When I was NPR’s Ombudsman, a few years ago, I was approached by a speakers’ bureau. I was asked if I would speak to the annual general meeting of Raytheon, the defense contractor. The agent for the speakers’ bureau said I would be flown to Los Angeles (first class, of course), put up in a fancy hotel and paid $15,000 (“Please keep it short. No more than 15-20 minutes.”). The topic: “On Being a News Ombudsman.”

Of course I agreed to do it because I think the role of the ombuds is so critical to the well-being of journalism. But I told them that I wouldn’t take their money: I had a small budget for outreach and would book my own travel (economy fare), stay at a mid-range hotel (where NPR gets a reduced corporate rate) and I would not take the speaking fee, but I would do it pro bono. The agency withdrew the offer (probably because they wouldn’t get a commission) and I never heard from them, or Raytheon again.

I have received one letter of dissent, from Frederic Golden:

I’ve never quite understood the hullabaloo over speaking invitations to journalists. When I was writing about science and medicine for TIME, I often got asked to speak before groups involved with issues I was covering. Because these talks were frequently an hour or longer, required significant travel time and serious preparation, including a scripted speech, I naturally accepted remuneration for my effort. And why not? The speeches required research and thought and, let’s not forget, my connection with a national magazine was undoubtedly a valuable drawing card for the sponsors. The important question is: did these appearances skew my subsequent reporting or writing? Despite what Mr. Bradlee says, I don’t think so. Rather than corrupting, the contacts I made during these appearances often led to a fuller understanding and deeper insights into the subjects I was covering and, at least once or twice, a beat on upcoming news event. It doesn’t make sense to keep journalists in an isolation booth.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2015

Weed Whackers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tremendous Machine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Goose in a Dress

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Genealogy of Orals

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Romancing Kano·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:

The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.

leadership
service
integrity
creativity

Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

Article
The Prisoner of Sex·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Gangs of Karachi·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
Article
Weed Whackers·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
Article
The Neoliberal Arts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.”
Artwork by Julie Cockburn

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today