Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I think we can all agree that it's unethical if a lobbyist pays for a representative's lavish meal or trip if the lawmaker then pursues the lobbyist's goals to return the favor. That hurts the democratic process. However, do we find it unethical if a journalist takes a lawmaker out to a lavish dinner in order to receive privileged information in return? At present, the rules regarding journalists and whether they can pay for the meals of lawmakers are going to be more limited in an effort to curb lobbyists' abuses, including if they work for a media outlet, as the blurb in NYT points out:

"January 16, 2007, 9:17 am
Rules Change
By David K. Kirkpatrick
Lobbyists are not the only ones who wine and dine lawmakers and their staff members. Journalists hoping to lubricate sources sit elbow-to-elbow with lobbyists at the same Washington steakhouses and watering holes. And, perhaps inadvertently, the new ethics rules passed by the House require lawmakers and aides to be very careful about letting reporters pick up the tab.
The new rule bars lawmakers and their aides from accepting meals paid for by employees of companies that also pay registered lobbyists. Among others, that includes journalists working for the major television networks, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. The New York Times Company, however, does not employ a registered lobbyist, so its reporters can still pick up the check" (link)

Would a lawmaker, or anyone else for that matter, be more willing to offer up information to a journalist if they got something of value in return? Offering up information can sometimes come with consequences -- like losing a job or breaking confidences with friends and colleagues. Perhaps people aren't willing to risk these consequences, even for a nice dinner? And perhaps because the aims of journalists are usually in favor of openness and transparency, rather than against it, we shouldn't really care how they get their information and if they have to persuade their sources with dinners and gifts (?).

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