The story of Armstrong Williams allegedly taking cash from someone in the Bush administration to promote the No Child Left Behind Act is bizarre. I have no doubt that Williams truly supports the Act, but taking money for publicizing it without disclosing it seems very wrong to me. I agree with Jonah Goldberg that if the Clinton administration did this, conservatives would be outraged. This is no different.
I'm somewhat struggling with similar issues in relation to my work and my blog. As many of my readers know, I work at a political consulting firm. We mostly do event planning for various politicians and political groups, but we also do PR, strategic consulting and a variety of other politically motivated tasks. I realize my reach on this blog isn't anywhere near as impressive as Williams, but at what point do I step over the line when I promote clients on this blog (something I haven't done yet beyond noting events that may be of interest, something I do whether or not I'm getting paid for it). The problem is that my clients are groups and people that I like anyway, and would promote anyway, that's why I chose to work at my current firm. So, where's the line? For example, I'm interested in the governor's race in New Jersey and my firm is in discussions about doing some work for one of the candidates. If we get the account, I'll have insider information that may be interesting to my blog readers. But, will I be doing something unethical by pushing the candidate (who I would prefer over the rest of the field anyway) on my blog? It's different from blogging while I'm on a campaign because you all know who my client is then, while my firm has many clients, with some I have no involvement whatsoever. What if I mention one of those without disclosing that they're a client? Is that unethical? There are groups that I openly love, like the NRA or the Club For Growth. What if I land one of them as an account someday? Will I then no longer be allowed to write about them? Will I have to disclose my relationship to them every time I do?
Instapundit writes that someone has accused him of taking money to promote Wonkette. He denies it and I completely believe him. But, what if Nick Denton hit his tip jar that week? Glenn might truly like Wonkette's writing but it would look all wrong, wouldn't it, even if one action had nothing to do with the other?
The thing about the relative newness of blogging is that there don't seem to be set boundaries yet. We can clearly see that what Williams did (if he did indeed do it) was wrong. With blogging, since it's a side thing for most people in addition to their jobs, ethical dilemmas are not as obvious. I assume that as the medium grows, this will change. I'm looking forward to that because I don't like being in the grey zone where I may be acting improperly without realizing it. In the meantime, I'm going to try to be as open with my readers as possible and hope that through transparency I'll never find myself in a similar situation as Williams. We'll see.
Posted by Karol at January 7, 2005 11:01 AM
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NOTICE: I'm a public relations consultant in NYC. From time to time I will write favorable posts about my clients because I believe in my clients and their causes. At that time, I will disclose any relationship with the client. Consider this statement as adequate disclosure for all my possible conflicts of interest now and in the future. Additionally, all material on this site should be considered my personal opinion and may not represent that of my clients. This includes my comments on other sites as well as anything I say in person. Finally, it should be noted that the opinions of guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect my own.