Talk is Expensive
Prominent journlaists can earn as much as $30,000 for making a speech. But are they damaging the credibility of the news media?
By Alicia C. Shepard
Alicia C. Shepard is a former AJR senior writer and NPR ombudsman.
They don't come cheap.
Diane Sawyer and Sam Donaldson are said to command as much as $30,000 for a speech, Cokie Roberts up to $20,000, and David Brinkley $18,000. The going rate is believed to be as high as $12,500 for George Will and $10,000 for Tim Russert. William Safire says he's gotten as much as $20,000. Anna Quindlen has received up to $15,000, CNN's Judy Woodruff and NBC's Lisa Myers say they've each pulled in $7,500, and Newsweek's Howard Fineman has earned as much as $5,000.
That's according to brochures put out by speakers' bureaus, people who deal with the bureaus, published reports and, in some cases, the speakers themselves. Exact figures are often hard to pin down, since many celebrity journalists are extremely reluctant to reveal specific numbers. And often these same highly paid journalists speak for free, or charge much less than published rates.
But what these journalists and a few hundred others have that the rest of us don't is "podium talent." And many have turned it into a lucrative sideline, giving one- to two-hour speeches to trade groups, colleges, corporations and conventions in return for what many other journalists may earn in a month or even a year.
Not every journalist can dip into the honoraria trough. The pool is limited to those with big names, wit and something pithy or insightful to say about politics or the media. Most of those commanding large speaking fees are the media elite of the Washington press. The rest come largely from the New York City media establishment. But those who collect fees are increasingly making those who don't uncomfortable. They say receiving large sums for speaking before groups with a vested interest in media coverage can give the appearance of a conflict. And it seems hypocritical for reporters to stuff their pockets with money from the same organizations they criticize for trying to buy influence on Capitol Hill.
To some, such impressive fees suggest those willing to pay want something in return. Of course, journalists who take honoraria say that isn't so. High-profile journalists say they are perceived as celebrities and entitled to capitalize on the years of work that led to stardom. And echoing members of Congress – who have been banned from taking honoraria since 1991 – they insist they're not tainted by the money.
But those who decline invitations say the credibility of journalist speechmakers is compromised. As in politics, the appearance of a conflict, they say, is just as harmful as a real one. Although evidence of a quid pro quo has never surfaced, there have been instances where its caused embarrassment to a journalist or his or her employer.
"I think we ought not to be doing this," former CBS and NBC correspondent Roger Mudd told AJR. "It poses so many difficulties. Journalists as a breed hold the politicians to a certain standard of conduct and a certain standard of the appearance of conduct. When it applies to us we frequently fail our own test."
"It's not a black-and-white situation," adds Walter Cronkite, who says he took money for a few speeches while at CBS, "but I would have to agree with the critics that it probably is better avoided."
Some journalists receive honoraria for services other than speeches. Beat reporters write freelance articles for organizations that have political or social agendas that benefit from news coverage. Others give lectures in exchange for junkets aboard cruise ships.
Whatever it is, as the number of possible conflicts increase, those who may be most confused are viewers and readers. "Journalists are something like judges in society," says ethics and public affairs professor Deni Elliott of the University of Montana. "I don't know the individual journalist I'm asked to trust. Maybe they absolutely can't be co-opted but I don't know that. I don't know who to trust."
Journalists aren't the only ones collecting speech money. They're marketed in the same brochures promoting Jimmy Carter, Marilyn Tucker Quayle, F. Lee Bailey, Art Linkletter and the Amazing Kreskin. Colin Powell, the recently retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has 60 speeches lined up this year for $60,000 each, according to a source who has worked with the Washington Speakers Bureau. While its unlikely that even big-name journalists rake in as much as Powell, few journalists AJR spoke with would disclose their earnings saying it's not the public's business. One exception was the Los Angeles Times' Jack Nelson, who says his largest honoraria this year was $750.
While print journalists aren't often considered celebrities, television has helped raise the profiles of many newspaper and magazines reporters, like Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal. Hunt, Nelson, Newsweek's Howard Fineman, the Washington Post's David Broder and other print reporters became popular as public speakers by sharing inside Washington tidbits on weekly public affairs shows like "Washington Week in Review," "The McLaughlin Group," "This Week With David Brinkley" or CNN's "Inside Politics."
"The ones who write about politics are most popular," says Lynn Choquette, a partner with the National Speakers Forum, which respresents about 50 print and electronic journalists. She says her clients' fees range from $3,000 to $60,000, with journalists getting between $3,000 and $30,000.
The most popular? "Eleanor Clift. Fred Barnes. Morton Kondracke. George Will. David Broder," says Choquette. "People care intensely about domestic politics. That's one reason. Many of these journalists have become TV stars in their own right and that raises their level of celebrity... If they have a charming personality and are telegenic, that really helps."
And that's where podium talent comes in. A moonlighting journalist can't just know health care reform or Whitewater inside out. "Speaking is akin to show business," says Phil Frankio, vice president of the Speakers Guild. "So there's not only the informational element, but somebody certainly has to have a good rapport with the audience. That may include humor or anecdotal type stories."
Leading Authorities, a speakers group that lists a stable of 47 journalists eager to talk, most for $5,000 or less, prints this disclaimer in its booklet: "Keep in mind that speaking fees are a function of many variables, including: how well-known the speaker is; the amount of time (preparation, speaking and travel) required to perform the speaking engagement; and the value each speaker places on his or her time. Higher fees do not guarantee a more substantive presentation or more polished performance."
Among those listed with Leading Authorities who speak for $5,000 or less if no traveling is involved: Scripps Howard's Peter Brown, CNN's Jill Dougherty, syndicated columnists Jack Germond and Jules Witcover, ABC's Hal Bruno, NPR's Ray Suarez, U.S. News & World Report's Ken Walsh and Time's Michael Duffy.
Whether's it's $5,000 or $30,000, the fee still dazzles many journalists who can't command it. The rank and file are quick to note a certain irony. "The people who tend to get these speaking gigs are the people who need it the least," says Carl Cannon, White House correspondent for Baltimore's Sun. But speechmaking journalists are not eager to publicize just how much they do make.
Even Sam Donaldson, whose reported fee of $30,000 has been widely cited in the press, won't confirm the amount, although that's what one special interest group said it paid the anchor. Donaldson advised AJR to call his speakers' bureau, which won't disclose it either. "I can tell you I didn't receive $30,000 but I'm not playing games with you," Donaldson says.
"I'm not going to disclose it," echoes the Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt. "I don't have a standard speech fee," says the Washington Post's David Broder. "I don't need to discuss that," says ABC's Catherine Crier.
PBS' Robert MacNeil says he speaks "primarily to promote the 'MacNeil/Lehrer News-Hour,' public television and my books" and says most of his speaking engagements are unpaid. Nonetheless, he says, "I think my fees are a private matter between me and my sponsors. But they range from honoraria of a few hundred dollars to a few that are in the upper end of current lecture scales."
Whatever the amounts, what happens when journalists speak before groups that have been or could be the subject of one of their stories? Take the case of Donaldson. On January 20, "PrimeTime Live" aired an investigative piece by Chris Wallace about a junket earlier that month sponsored by a group of insurance organizations, including the American Insurance Association, for about 30 congressional staffers. It was vintage "PrimeTime Live," with hidden cameras catching the staffers on the beach in Key West, Florida, and charges of influence peddling. The message was that once again a trade organization was trying to buy votes on Capitol Hill.
Only this story had a small on-air asterisk. Donaldson, too, had benefited from the industry's generosity and Wallace disclosed that fact, but not the amount, during the piece. A year before Wallace's story aired, a consortium of many of the same insurance organizations that sponsored the Florida junket flew Donaldson first-class to New York City and chauffeured him by limousine to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. There, he gave a one-hour speech for $30,000, according to a spokesperson for the group – about what it cost the industry to foot the bill for 30 in Florida.
In its defense, Paul Equale, senior vice president for government affairs of the Independent Insurance Agents of America, asked Wallace on camera why it was OK for Donaldson to accept money from them and not OK for the congressional staffers.
"If Sam Donaldson can accept $30,000 from this industry and still do this story on 'PrimeTime Live,' " he asked, "why can't you understand that members of Congress and their staffs can accept a trip worth far less and still be as tough on my industry as Sam Donaldson? It's the same logic." Wallace ignored the question and the exchange never aired.
Rick Nelson, a producer with "PrimeTime Live," says the program didn't air Equale's question because "I don't think he made it [the point] very well" and Equale took too much time in bringing up the issue.
Donaldson argues that he's not writing laws for the insurance industry "that could cost them or make them millions of dollars."
He may not be writing laws, says Equale, but Donaldson's got more influence on the public agenda than many members of Congress. (As an example of the media's power, consider the libel suit Philip Morris filed in March against ABC over a segment aired on "Day One." The company says that when the show reported in February and March that Philip Morris adds nicotine to keep smokers addicted, its dropped in value by $2.4 billion.
Equale also notes that laws mandate that members of Congress and their staffs disclose trips paid for by lobbyists. "Sam Donaldson is under no such requirement," he says. "That's a double standard."
Equale isn't the first critic to accuse Donaldson of wanting it both ways. In spring 1993, "PrimeTime Live" broadcast a piece on a junket 10 members of Congress and their spouses took to an island off the west coast of Florida. It was paid for by the Electronics Industry Association (EIA). At the last minute ABC News President Roone Arledge insisted that Donaldson reveal that he too had taken money from EIA for a speech in 1989 – although the specific amount ($25,000, according to the EIA) wasn't mentioned.
The show prompted discussion on the journalism bulletin board of the online service CompuServe last May. Marianne Lavelle, a reporter with the National Law Journal who took part in the discussion, told AJR, "I may know as a journalist that he's unbaised, but how does Jane Doe in Pennsylvania know that he's not biased. The whole thing just increases your level of cynicism."
Donaldson didn't do the reporting for either piece and says his fees are being used by the two groups to deflect criticism. "If you or anyone else could provide evidence that I'd spoken to the Insurance Institute, collected a fee and then somehow put the kibosh on the investigation or asked Chris Wallace to pull back his punches, that would be a real good story," Donaldson says.
"In fact, though, what the story appears to be, is pay Donaldson to speak to you and get investigated by 'PrimeTime.' It's hard for me to see how anyone can make out that I have thus traduced the best traditions of our business."
Cokie Roberts, a reporter for NPR and ABC, was also recently criticized when she gave a speech to the Group Health Association of America, a group with a strong interest in the outcome of Clinton's health care reform legislation. C-SPAN wanted to cover it but was turned down by Robert's agent, the Harry Walker Agency, which bars C-SPAN cameras because they make it difficult for its clients to command large fees.
Roberts, who did not return repeated phone calls because she was "extraordinarily busy," has never publicly disclosed her fee, but insiders say it's $20,000 – minus the agent's commission.
In a March column, the Chicago Tribune's Washington bureau chief, James Warren, criticized Roberts and CBS' Leslie Stahl. Stahl recently took money from Cigna Corp., an insurance company with a major stake in the health care debate. Warren speculated that Stahl was paid in the $10,000 to $20,000 range.
"Taking money from such a group shouldn't be a close call for someone covering Congress' biggest issue of the year," Warren wrote. "But in Washington, the reporter-pundit class, which craves both to be on TV and subsequent speaking gigs that can bring hefty outside income, is expert at rationalizing such conflicts with a mix of sophistry and fervent self-righteousness. One line usually is, 'Oh, there's nobody who thinks that my opinions can be bought.'.. Baloney. When money changes hands, the relationship between reporter and subject changes."
Roy Brunett, a spokesperson for "60 Minutes," says Stahl, who moderated a discussion on health care issues sponsored by the company does not consider it a conflict or even the appearance of one. She also will not disclose her fee, Brunett says. "That's between her and the company."
Warren says he took $200 from the American Bar Association a few years ago to run a symposium, but now regrets it. "If I had to do it again," he says, "I don't think I'd take the money."
Beat reporters who have developed an expertise in their field also are often asked to speak to or write for groups they cover. One potential conflict arose when the World Resources Institute (WRI), an environmental think tank in Washington, D.C., asked three reporters to write for "The 1994 Information Please, Environmental Almanac," which was compiled by WRI and published by Houghton Mifflin. Bob Wyss of the Providence Journal-Bulletin, Russell Clemings of the Fresno Bee and Mike Mansur of the Kansas City Star wrote chapters and were paid. Says Mansur, who was paid $2,000 by Houghton Mifflin for a 7,000-word chapter, "None of the information [I wrote about] was new. It was all part of my coverage...for the Star."
Wyss, who wasn't required to check with an editor before taking the assignment, says there's no conflict. "It's extremely remote that I would be covering World Resources Inc. They're just not the sort of mainstream sort of environmental group that I even deal with." Clemings says he checked back to see what had been written about WRI before accepting the assignment. His last story on the institute had been about the almanac, but he says if something came up again, he would turn it over to another reporter.
Nevertheless, Bud Ward, editor of Environment Writer, a newsletter read by 1,400 environmental journalists, says he questions "whether they should be writing for a group that's subject to their own coverage. I'm concerned about the public's attitude toward the press. This kind of thing gives the public more reason to be skeptical of the media's independence."
Another subject of criticism from some reporters has been well-known journalists who give lectures in exchange for fancy accommodations on cruises where the paying passengers are lawyers, accountants, financial planners and insurance underwriters. Last year, for example, the L.A. Times' Jack Nelson and Paul Duke, the recently retired host of "Washington Week in Review," took two all-expenses paid cruises on luxury liners for a conference organized by a Florida travel agency. Some call it journalist junketeering; Nelson says he's providing a service.
Critics say that taking money from groups falling under a reporter's purview raises all sorts of potential conflicts of interest or, at the least, the appearance of one. The money also raises questions about a reporter's objectivity. "It seems to me the problem is because Sam and others take that kind of money it precludes them from ever covering insurance scandals," Roger Mudd said on a recent radio talk show. "It puts them in an immediate conflict of interest." Mudd says while he was with the networks, he took some small fees for speeches to schools.
James D. Squires, a former editor of the Chicago Tribune, tells of the time the Tribune's movie reviewer, Gene Siskel, wanted to do some side work for the Walt Disney Co. Squires said no. "If every time Gene Siskel came on TV and says I'm about to review a Disney movie and I'm paid by Disney but I'll still be impartial," says Squires, "look how silly that would look."
Bob Steele, director of the ethics program at the Poynter Institute, believes that, in their hearts, reporters who speak for cash may be 100 percent certain of their objectivity and fairness. But there's no way to prove that to their audience. "How do we know what didn't go into the story?" he says. "Or that a journalist would do a story and be exceptionally hard on an organization to prove they were neutral?"
There's yet to be a case, however, in which there was a proven quid pro quo. "No one for a minute who knows Sam would think he could be influenced," says Squires, who says he once took $5,000 from the American Petroleum Institute while at the Tribune and donated it to charity. "But what it does is put the credibility of brand name journalism at risk. The same kind of damage is done by 'Hard Copy' and little nitwit reporters showing up on television making wild allegations."
Public figures also question the practice. At an April meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, former Secretary of Defense nominee Bobby Ray Inman, who cited criticism of the media when he withdrew his name from consideration, also questioned journalists who take big fees for speeches.
Edward Pound, an investigative reporter for U.S. News & World Report, recalls asking White House adviser James Carville about speeches he gives to special interest groups. Carville deflected the criticism. "What he said to me was, 'What I find mostly when I go there is reporters giving speeches. I usually find myself preceeding and following a reporter,' " says Pound. "There's a lot of truth to that. I don't want to sound high and mighty, but I just don't think it's a good policy. When I came to Washington in 1977, it wasn't nearly at the stage it is now. It's out of control."
Some critics say that while talking for dollars can be questionable – depending on the group paying – it's the amount that has people wondering if a group is trying to influence or buy access to a journalist.
"Journalists need to ask, 'What would reasonable people think about me taking an honorarium for speaking before this special interest group that has a vested interest in how they are covered?' " says Ralph Barney, a communications professor at Brigham Young University who specializes in ethics.
What would reasonable people think about U.S. News & World Report's former editor at large, David Gergen? Before he became counselor to President Clinton, Gergen collected $466,625 for 121 speeches in 1992, according to a report he filed with the Office of Government Ethics. That's a speech every three days. In the month of October 1992 alone he gave 15 speeches – two on one day. In the first six months of 1993, Gergen spoke 50 times to groups such as IBM, the Mexican Stock Exchange and Dow-Corning, earning $239,460 – about the same amount as 18 months of his annual salary. The majority of organizations paid $5,000 or more. Gergen did not return phone calls.
Another journalist who joined the Clinton administration, Strobe Talbott, former editor at large for Time magazine, collected a total of $20,000 for two speeches in 1992, according to financial disclosure reports he filed when he became deputy secretary of state.
If Talbott, Gergen or Donaldson reaped $100 per speech, fewer would question it. Most agree journalists' time is valuable and they should be compensated. But $12,000 – which Gergen got in 1992 for a speech in front of the the American Stock Exchange – is another story.
"The group that hired you clearly thinks it's getting its money's worth or they wouldn't do it," says Steven Knowlton, a journalism professor at Pennsylvania State University who wrote a book on ethics titled "The Journalist's Moral Compass." "Is it for Sam Donaldson's brilliance or insight? No, I don't think so. They think they're buying some influence or else why would they do it?" He believes a reasonable fee would cover expenses or be a day or couple of days' pay.
Knowlton and the public might perceive it that way, but Donaldson says since he first took $100 in 1969 no one "in any of these organizations has called me and asked me to do something for them or to not do something against them."
Mark Rosenker, vice president of public affairs of the Electronics Industry Association, agrees that his organization is not looking for favors but simply access. "My business is to get stories in the paper or TV," he says. "Would I call Sam? Yes. But I don't believe he'd do a favorable story or kill a story no matter how much I paid him for a speech."
Why then do trade groups and corporations – the ones that generally pay big fees for big names – pay Sawyer, Roberts, Donaldson and other well-known journalists outrageous sums?
Representatives of these groups say the reason is much simpler and much less conspiratorial: They pay big money because that's what top-flight journalists charge. Many industry groups say they want a big-name journalist to talk about Washington and to help attract members to their conventions or meetings.
"At these big industry meetings, we fly in CEOs, their wives and district managers," says the insurance industry's Paul Equale. "They want glitz. Television has turned these people into celebrities." Adds EIA's Rosenker, "We expect a good speech. We expect to be entertained and enlightened."
Even Donaldson concedes that the fees border on the absurd. He says he charges what he does because that's what the market will bear and he wants to limit engagements – although he's listed with at least six speaker's bureaus. Donaldson says he doesn't even prepare for them: "If you hire me you're getting pretty much an off-the-cuff, let's wing-it version of what's going on in Washington.
"You and I can agree that maybe it's silly or a waste of their money, but they actually pay me because they think I'm a celebrity who will come to their convention, whose members will be impressed that I'm on the program."
Knowlton won't argue with that. "As a journalist, he's not worth $30,000," he says. "But he is as a star."
Carl Cannon of Baltimore's Sun is not on the speaking circuit. He and others acknowledge that some criticism may come from that old green-eyed monster, jealousy. What would the have-nots do, asked a journalist who didn't want to publicly defend that practice, if they were offered a chance to speak for an hour for what they might earn in a month? "It's wonderful to have these standards," he says, "but the ones who have them don't seem to have to apply them."
Not all journalists, even those with podium potential, speak for money. Jim Lehrer, host of PBS' "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour," used to do it. Unlike his partner, Robert MacNeil, who speaks about 25 times a year but often for free, Lehrer now turns down invitations because of the public perception problem. He also says he doesn't need the cash anymore.
"I quit doing it since I no longer had kids in college," says Lehrer. "I'm not comfortable with it, to tell you the truth. I don't want to come over as being sanctimonious or self-righteous about this. I think everybody has to make their own decision. I'm just not doing it myself because of the nature of the business I'm in."
Another reason Lehrer doesn't do it, he says, is because taking cash on the circuit makes his colleagues occasionally appear hypocritical. "What I object to, to be straight about it, is journalists who take the position that they are purer than all other people," says Lehrer.
Lehrer says if he took $30,000 from a group, he's sure he wouldn't be influenced. "But if a member of Congress does that we automatically assume that it's not only unethical, but the guy's on the take," says Lehrer. "It's the self-righteousness that accompanies the taking of this money by journalists that I think is just absolute bullshit. Take the money, fine. Go make your speeches and be pure. But don't assume that everybody else is less pure than you are."
NBC's Tom Brokaw airs his views but gives the money to a foundation that distributes it to charity. Brokaw, like many other well-known journalists, also speaks for free to colleges, charities and civic groups.
ABC's "Nightline" anchor Ted Koppel quit speechmaking five years ago when he became dumbfounded by how much groups would pay. "He personally became uncomfortable with the whole process of taking money for speeches," says ABC spokesperson Eileen Murphy. "He doesn't feel there's a conflict in every case. But he feels uncomfortable explaining to the people in his audience, who depend on his credibility, why he was doing it." Some critics charge that Koppel and Lehrer both stopped doing it when they reached points in their career where their salaries were so high they could easily afford to be more ethical.
Koppel seems to have applied the same litmus test that Knowlton thinks all journalists should use. "If you can't convince an auto mechanic or a barber that the money you took wouldn't buy any influence," says Knowlton, "that would be OK. But my tailor wouldn't believe that if I took $30,000 from an individual, I wouldn't be influenced."
Walter Cronkite says he "never thought about" the money he accepted for speeches while at CBS. "It never seemed to be a problem." But in retrospect he also believes perception problems are the most worrisome aspect of accepting honoraria.
"I absolutely agree with those defending the practice by saying they are not influenced. I believe that," he says. "I believe good journalists, the ones who are admired anyway, have nothing to fear from internal introspection as to what they've done or are doing. It's solely a matter of perception, and important to our integrity [as journalists]."
Judi Hasson, a reporter for USA Today who covers health reform, is one who refuses invitations from any group involved in her beat. "I just don't want to be taking money from the people I write about," she says. "I can use the money. But it's not difficult to turn it down."
Others wrestle with each invitation. "Every time someone asks you to speak," says ABC's Catherine Crier, "it's important to look and see whether you would see any conflict or problem. That inquiry is made every time I'm asked to speak."
But deciding just what is a conflict is becoming harder to determine. "The murky area, the ones where I need to check are the ones where I get an invitation from a business group," says the Washington Post's David Broder. "We don't want to be involved with people who have too much of a stake in anything. For example, I'm doing a lot of stuff on health care so I would not speak to any group that's a major player in the health care thing."
Maybe not now, but what, for the sake of argument, if Broder had in the past? As Donaldson's case indicates, what appears to not be a conflict today could be one tomorrow. "In my work, you never know," says Broder, "that's why it pays to bend over backwards."
Disclosure is often mentioned as a solution. If the public sees Cokie Roberts on TV talking about health care and knows she took $20,000 from a group concerned with the issue, then it can decide what to believe.
But disclosure isn't an easy solution. Unlike members of Congress, who must disclose all sources of income annually and are prohibited from accepting honoraria, no similar mechanism exists for journalists. Many news organizations have internal disclosure policies but they often relate more to whom a reporter speaks.
"We don't want to treat our reporters like children," says U.S. News & World Report's Kathy Bushkin, who is the magazine's director of editorial administration. The policy there, like at many news organizations and networks, is reporters can't speak to groups they cover; for other speeches, they need to discuss the circumstances with their editor.
Many other news organizations are now addressing the issue of honoraria. In light of the Donaldson disclosures, ABC is reconsidering its policy, which currently doesn't specifically cover the issue. So is NBC. So is Newsweek, which now doesn't require correspondents to seek prior permission to speak for money. The Wall Street Journal decided a few years ago to forbid honoraria from any for-profit organization; the Washington Post forbids honoraria that could be interpreted as "disguised gratuities."
Magazine journalists who cover Capitol Hill had the opportunity to disclose their honoraria earnings six years ago, but few were eager to do so. To obtain congressional press passes, magazine reporters must apply for credentials from the Periodical Press Gallery. The gallery is run by Congress, but a seven-member committee of journalists decides who gets credentials. In 1988, the committee voted to revamp its application and have reporters list the group and date – not the amount – for each speech.
"If they spoke to the Tobacco Institute or some business organization, that would have to have been disclosed," recalls David Holmes, superintendent of the House Periodical Press Gallery. "If you made $100,000 in total income from speeches, you had to list every speech." Previously, they could just list the speakers bureaus that paid them and not name the groups who they spoke to or list the fee.
Few liked the new idea. Later that year, when committee members stood for reelection, four of seven were tossed out of office. "The first thing they did was return to the old form," which only requires listing the speakers' bureau, says Holmes.
The issue came up again recently, but the new committee was not so bold. While it brought it up at a March meeting, it decided only to re-state and clarify the existing policy. The bottom line: It's still alright to list only the speakers' bureau. Even so, some journalists continue to leave the line blank or write only "speeches."
Attempts to encourage disclosure or limit honoraria to small, expenses-only fees are suggested by critics not to strip a working journalist of income but to safeguard the eroding credibility of the profession. Poll after poll documents that journalists are listed just above used car salesmen and politicians when it comes to public trust. Losing credibility will just make it more difficult – if not impossible – to do the job, critics say.
Says Lehrer, "Anything that detracts from our credibility detracts from our being. Because without our credibility, we ain't got it. We're nowhere." l ###