The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Armstrong Williams and the perverseness of money

Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot: the deadliest dictators of the 20th century were none of them motivated in the bloodiest parts of their careers by pecuniary gain.

Neither George Bush nor Tony Blair managed Iraqi WMD intelligence in the expectation of a personal pay-day.

Does that in any way reduce their culpability? Of course not.

So why should it make a difference that Williams should have massaged the truth for cash rather than because God told him to do so?

Conflict of interest is a concept only applicable in circumstances where a person is put in position of trust.

A journalist is not in a position of trust. To imply as much is to encourage a delusion grievously damaging for the polity as a whole. On the contrary, he is to be put to the proof on every important point.

Any suggestion to the contrary would be all the more amazing coming shortly after the details of the 60 Minutes Killian memo fiasco were revealed: the fanaticism of Mary Mapes was liberally catalogued, as well as the complaisance of an editorial team in the face of a story which was too good to check.

Whether or not Mapes was acting on partisan motives, there was no evidence that financial gain played any part in her actions.

As to USG disinformation, that will flow uninterrupted courtesy of the stenography of journalists who need nary a bone to impersonate Nipper.

Judith Miller is able to preen herself that she never took a dime for passing off Ahmed Chalabi's fairy tales as intelligence scoops. Is she higher or lower on the scale of media infamy than Williams? Should sane men be giving house-room to an argument by which she is morally less culpable than he?

And let us by all means not lose sight of the point of overriding importance: editors and managers decide what 'news' gets published. No Judith Miller WMD scoop without Howell Raines, no ongoing NYT stenography without Bill Keller. Credit where credit's due.

Did the editors and management of the papers and broadcast outlets through which Armstrong Williams opined ever ask him whether he'd been paid to play?

Never ask a question you don't want to hear the answer to...

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