Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Payola Doesn't Stop Until We Reach The Top

We're living in a surreal world when The Prez has to order his Cabinet to stop paying for positive coverage.

One day after President Bush ordered his Cabinet secretaries to stop hiring commentators to help promote administration initiatives, and one day after the second high-profile conservative pundit was found to be on the federal payroll, a third embarrassing hire has emerged. Salon has confirmed that Michael McManus, a marriage advocate whose syndicated column, "Ethics & Religion," appears in 50 newspapers, was hired as a subcontractor by the Department of Health and Human Services to foster a Bush-approved marriage initiative. McManus championed the plan in his columns without disclosing to readers he was being paid to help it succeed.

Responding to the latest revelation, Dr. Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at HHS, announced Thursday that HHS would institute a new policy that forbids the agency from hiring any outside expert or consultant who has any working affiliation with the media. "I needed to draw this bright line," Horn tells Salon. "The policy is being implemented and we're moving forward."


To date, the Bush administration has paid public relation firms $250 million to help push proposals, according to a report Thursday in USA Today. That's double what the Clinton administration spent on P.R. from 1997 to 2000. Shortly after Williams' contract came to light, the Democrats on the Committee on Government Reform wrote a letter to President Bush demanding that he "immediately provide to us all past and ongoing efforts to engage in covert propaganda, whether through contracts with commentators, the distribution of video news releases, or other means." As of Thursday, a staffer on the committee told Salon, there had been no response.