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

January 2015

Come With Us if You Want to Live

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Body Politic

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Problem of Pain Management

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Game On

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Love Crimes

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Body Politic·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“‘He wrote all these love poems, but he was a son of a bitch,’ said a reporter from a wire service.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Article
Love Crimes·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If a man rapes a woman, she might be forced to marry him, because in Afghanistan sex before marriage is dishonorable.”
Photographs © Andrew Quilty/Oculi/Agence VU
Article
Game On·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union had posed a truly existential threat.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Come With Us if You Want to Live·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I was startled that all these negative ideologies could be condensed so easily into a positive worldview.”
Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Christmas in Prison·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Just so you motherfuckers know, I’ll be spending Christmas with my family, eating a good meal, and you’ll all be here, right where you belong.”
Photographer unknown. Artwork courtesy Alyse Emdur

Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:

36,000

A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.

Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”

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

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today