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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.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
Estimated acres of forest Henry David Thoreau burned down in 1844 trying to cook fish he had caught for dinner:
The bombardier beetle, which can fire liquid at its enemies from its rear end at up to 300 squirts per second, was being scrutinized in the hope of building a better airplane engine.
London Fire Brigade investigators blamed a building fire in South London on a bird that carried a lit cigarette to its rooftop nest. “Smokers,” said neighborhood baker Richard Scroggs. “What can you say?”
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“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.”