Bush administration paying independent commentators

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The Independent US

The controversy over the Bush administration paying money to supposedly independent commentators reignited yesterday when it was revealed that another syndicated columnist had been paid to promote the president's policies.

The controversy over the Bush administration paying money to supposedly independent commentators reignited yesterday when it was revealed that another syndicated columnist had been paid to promote the president's policies.

Maggie Gallagher, a regular media commentator on so-called family values, admitted she had received an undisclosed payment of $21,000 from the Department of Health and Human Services to promote Mr Bush's $300m initiative to encourage marriage. She received a further $20,000 to write a report about the government initiative for a private organisation.

Writing in 2002, for instance, for the right-wing National Review Online, she said: "The Bush marriage initiative would emphasise the importance of marriage to poor couples and educate teens on the value of delaying child-bearing until marriage. [This could] carry big payoffs down the road for tax-payers and children."

Last year, in appearances on television, in columns and with newspapers she defended Mr Bush's proposal for a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Her website currently carries an article which claims evidence from Sweden suggests gay and lesbian married couples are more likely to divorce than heterosexual couples.

Contacted yesterday by The Independent, Ms Gallagher declined to comment, saying she had addressed the issue in a column posted on her website. In that column she wrote: "My first instinct is to say no... I had no special obligation to disclose this information. I'm a marriage expert. I get paid to write, edit, research, and educate on marriage. If a scholar or expert gets paid to do some work for the government, should he or she disclose that if he writes a paper, essay, or op-ed on the same or similar subject? If this is the ethical standard, it is an entirely new standard."

She added: "The real truth is that it never occurred to me. On reflection, I think... I should have disclosed a government contract... I would have, if I had remembered it. My apologies to my readers."

The news about Ms Gallagher, president of the conservative Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, follows the earlier revelation that right-wing commentator Armstrong Williams was paid $241,000 to promote the government's education policy. Though he apologised, Mr Williams has lost a number of his columns as a result of the controversy.

Questioned about the practice of the White House making undisclosed payments to pundits, Mr Bush yesterday sought to put the blame on Mr Williams, saying he had "made a mistake". He then conceded that the Department of Education had also acted wrongly, adding: "All our Cabinet secretaries must realise that we are not paying commentators to promote our agenda. Our agenda must stand on its own two feet."

Steve Rendall, an analyst with the independent media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), said Mr Bush was trying to place blame on the commentators rather than accepting that it was the White House that paid them to support its policies.

"The real offence here is that readers or radio listeners are being defrauded in a sense lied to," he said. "They believe they are reading the words or hearing the opinion of an independent pundit but they are being propagandised to by a covert government agent."

He added: "Mr Bush says his policies can stand on their own but they apparently can not."

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