[Washington Babylon ]David Broder’s Moonlighting: Post columnist benefits from corporate speaking deals | Harper's Magazine

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[Washington Babylon]

David Broder’s Moonlighting: Post columnist benefits from corporate speaking deals


Back in the mid-1990s, the fact that some big-name Washington reporters were receiving huge speaking fees created a scandal within the journalism world. No one was tougher in criticizing the practice than David Broder of the Washington Post, a Pulitzer Prize winner and a professor at the University of Maryland who is commonly referred to as the “dean” of the national press corps. As Broder said in a 1996 Frontline show called “Why America Hates the Press”:

It’s clear that some journalists now are in a market category where the amount of money that they can make on extracurricular activities raises, in my mind, exactly, and, clearly, in the public’s mind, exactly the same kind of conflict-of-interest questions that we are constantly raising with people in public life. . . .

People think that we are part of the establishment and therefore part of the problem. I mean, what bothers me is the notion that journalists believe, or some journalists believe, that they can have their cake and eat it too, that you can have all of the special privileges, access and extraordinary freedom that you have because you are a journalist operating in a society which protects journalism to a greater degree than any other country in the world, and at the same time you can be a policy advocate. You can be a public performer on the lecture circuit or television. I think that’s greedy.

Howard Kurtz, the high priest of journalism ethics (who now simultaneously writes a Post column and hosts a show on CNN, where he recently promoted a book that his wife “had been paid to serve as a publicist for”), was equally outraged. “The pot of gold in the talk show world is not just for the half hour you spend on the program,” he said. “Maybe you get a few hundred dollars, at most. But it opens up this world of the lecture circuit, which has become a real scandal, I think, in the world of journalism. The reason so many journalists want to get on these shows and become these identifiable personalities is they can then go out and speak to corporations and lobbying groups for sometimes tens of thousands of dollars for a single speech, more than some Americans make in a year.”

And two years earlier, Broder spoke to the American Journalism Review on the subject:

“The murky area, the ones where I need to check are the ones where I get an invitation from a business group,” says the Washington Post‘s David Broder. “We don’t want to be involved with people who have too much of a stake in anything. For example, I’m doing a lot of stuff on health care so I would not speak to any group that’s a major player in the health care thing.”

So it’s surprising to see that Broder, who recently took a buyout but will continue to write his Post column, appears to be a regular presence these days on the business-lecture circuit and has even spoken to major health-care groups. Do a Google search and you’ll see that Broder is represented by a number of speaker’s bureaus, including Grabow, which says it is “your David Broder booking agent for private corporate events.”

Broder is identified (in various promotional and other online materials) as a featured speaker at such events as these:

  • Last October’s Western Conference of Prepaid Medical Service Plans, “an organization comprised of 31 member companies, primarily Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans, principally located throughout the Western United States and Canada.” The event was held at the La Quinta Resort & Spa, “a legendary hideaway and meeting destination, renowned since 1926 for its charm and serenity. La Quinta Resort & Club features 90 holes of some of the country’s best golf . . . [and] a variety of unique indoor and outdoor treatments including PGA WEST Golf Massage, open-air Celestial Showers Sacred Stone Massage and more.”

    According to a draft agenda, Broder was set to speak on October 16. Two days earlier, he wrote a column for the Post called “A Market Makeover For Health Insurance,” which hailed the release of a new report by the Committee for Economic Development (CED), “a high-powered business group,” which called on “government to restructure the private insurance market in less rigid form than Hillary Clinton proposed 14 years ago—and then step back and let competitive market forces do their invaluable work of forcing recalcitrant insurers, doctors and hospitals to bid against each other on the basis of price and quality.”

    Broder said that plans “similar to the one CED has endorsed” were already in place at institutions like the University of California and that the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan, “which covers members of Congress,” had a “somewhat similar structure.” The University of California system offers Blue Cross to employees and many federal employees are enrolled in Blue Cross. Putting aside the merits of the CED plan and Blue Cross’s position on it, shouldn’t Broder at least have disclosed that he was speaking at the La Quinta Conference?

  • A 2007 meeting of the National Association of Manufacturers, one of the nation’s leading business lobbies, at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island Resort. (“Find yourself on Amelia Island, Florida—where Southern charm meets the sea and live oaks meet white sandy beaches,” says the resort’s website. “One of the most popular beach destinations on the East Coast, this luxurious barrier island hotel provides a welcome barrier between you and the world beyond.”)

  • The Gartner Healthcare Summit 2007, held last November at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa. “Catalyzing Collaboration Between Healthcare Providers and Insurers,” says the event website. Broder was to give a talk on “Technology in Healthcare.”

  • A 2007 meeting of the Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS. This event was a fund-raiser for the group’s Political Action Committee (PAC), so by appearing Broder helped the group raise money to give to lawmakers in hopes of winning access and influence. The $35-per-person attendance fee was waived for those who had donated $250 or more to the PAC. “Connect with legislators and fellow REALTORS to hear David Broder, Pulitzer Prize–winning correspondent for the Washington Post, share his insights into the world of politics,” said the promo material. “Pegged by Washingtonian Magazine as a journalist ‘on the pulse of American opinion,’ Broder is poised to relate who is in and who is out of the upcoming presidential primaries.”

  • “Seabourn Pride’s 13-night ‘Rio & the Amazon’ cruise departs Rio de Janeiro with David S. Broder aboard,”, says a Frommer’s item about a scheduled February 2007 event. The item, titled “Seabourn Goes for Power, Politics & Punditry,” says that if the “daily slugfest” between President Bush and the Democratic Congress is not enough, “You can inject a giant slug of politics right into your vacation bloodstream by booking with Seabourn.”

  • The 2006 annual meeting of the American Council for Capital Formation, which has an aggressive lobbying program in Washington to promote such goals as “pension reform” and opposition to windfall-profit taxes on the oil industry. The head of the Council is Mark Bloomfield, whom the Wall Street Journal once profiled for leading a “25-year quest for lower taxes on saving and investment.” According to a Council newsletter, Broder told the audience that at the Post, “We do ‘shoe leather reporting’ with real people.” Noted the newsletter: “‘The steady drumbeat of news out of Iraq is sapping the confidence of the country,’ Mr. Broder said. But for the fact that the U.S. economy is doing extremely well, the outlook for the G.O.P. might seem dim. ‘If we could find our way forward to progress in Iraq,’ other important issues on the U.S. agenda such as the lingering fallout from Katrina would be less daunting.”

How much does Broder get paid for these speeches (and there have been a number of others over the past few years)? I don’t know for sure—thus far he has not responded to phone and email messages requesting comment. He did apparently get paid $12,000 for a 2006 keynote speech to the League of Minnesota Cities. “He’s Superman in a brown suit!” says promotional material, which called Broder the “high priest of political journalism,” and “the most respected and influential political journalist in the country.”

Perhaps the groups to whom Broder spoke paid only for his expenses. Even if that’s true, he still appears to have—at minimum—been on the receiving end of some sweet junkets. And shouldn’t Broder disclose to the Post‘s readers and the general public his moonlighting activities, especially when he writes about topics that overlap with his speaking gigs?

(If Broder does reply, I will update this story.)

In thinking about the propriety of Broder’s arrangements, here’s one last quote to consider from a revered name at the Post, Ben Bradlee. This is what he told American Journalism Review in 1995 about pundits making big bucks on the lecture circuit:

I wish it would go away. I don’t like it. I think it’s corrupting. If the Insurance Institute of America, if there is such a thing, pays you $10,000 to make a speech, don’t tell me you haven’t been corrupted. You can say you haven’t and you can say you will attack insurance issues in the same way, but you won’t. You can’t. I would like to limit speeches to nonprofit institutions. But even that is a little phony because they’ve corrupted the nonprofit institutions out of shape. If you talk to a college, a school, a university, a charity, that’s OK.

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