Sadly, some conservatives are now defending the practice of opinion writers serving as hired guns (hired quills?) for business and lobbying interests. Among others, Iain Murray in The American Spectator and Giovanetti in National Review Online (which, to its credit, has published strong critiques of payola in punditry) claim that a witch-hunt against conservative writers is afoot. Liberal pundits, they whine, are subsidized by the media, major foundations, and the publishing industry, while conservatives and libertarians have nowhere to go but to the corporate trough. It is therefore in the interests of liberals to, in Giovanetti’s words, “isolate conservatives from their natural allies in the business community.”
The payola defenders pooh-pooh concerns about journalistic ethics. Murray writes that an opinion piece “does not seek to establish a fact, but to win people over to a particular viewpoint or opinion,” and should be judged solely by the quality of the argument. He asserts that to regard a journalist as tainted by taking money from those on whose behalf he or she argues is an “ad hominem” attack.
The fallacy of this ought to be obvious. An argument should be not only convincing but intellectually honest. Undisclosed financial interest in the slant of an article compromises a writer’s intellectual honesty and hence his or her credibility.