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 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2015

A Sage in Harlem

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Man Stopped

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Spy Who Fired Me

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Giving Up the Ghost

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Invisible and Insidious

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

[Browsings]
William Powell published The Anarchist Cookbook in 1971. He spent the next four decades fighting to take it out of print.
“The book has hovered like an awkward question on the rim of my consciousness for years.”
© JP Laffont/Sygma/Corbis
Article
The Fourth Branch·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Both the United States and the Soviet Union saw student politics as a proxy battleground for their rivalry.”
Photograph © Gerald R. Brimacombe/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
Article
Giving Up the Ghost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Stories about past lives help explain this life — they promise a root structure beneath the inexplicable soil of what we see and live and know, what we offer one another.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Article
The Spy Who Fired Me·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In industry after industry, this data collection is part of an expensive, high-tech effort to squeeze every last drop of productivity from corporate workforces.”
Illustration by John Ritter
Article
Invisible and Insidious·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly.”
Photograph © 2011 Massimo Mastrorillo and Donald Weber/VII

Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:

1

Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.

An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Driving Mr. Albert

By

He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.

Subscribe Today