It’s Pay Day, Pay Day, Pay Day!

The list just keeps on growing. Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher, Mike McManus, Mike Vasilinda. Latest addition: Charles D. Chieppo, (now former) op-ed columnist for the Boston Herald, who also happens to be a paid flack for Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.

Last Friday, the Boston Globe reported that the Romney administration was paying Chieppo $10,000 to promote the environmental policies of the governor through op-ed articles and other material. Romney has been mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2008.

That glaring conflict didn’t apparently bother Chieppo’s boss at the Herald. Editorial page editor Rachelle Cohen said she was aware that her weekly columnist was being paid by the Governor and saw no problem, so long as he refrained from writing about “those topics he’s consulting on.”

Then, on Saturday, Globe reporter Raphael Lewis dropped the other shoe: Chieppo had a third job, with the convention center authority. He was being paid $32,000 to promote the state’s tourism industry.

That double (triple?) dip apparently was more than even the Herald could stomach. After the Herald learned of Chieppo’s other contract when a Globe reporter called for comment, publisher Patrick Purcell said in a written statement that “Upon further review, the Boston Herald has decided to sever our relationship with Charles Chieppo.”

The Globe reported:

Chieppo, who began writing on the Herald’s op-ed page in January, said in an interview yesterday that it did not occur to him that he should have informed Herald editors about his convention center authority work, which pays $100 an hour. A former member of the authority’s board of directors, Chieppo said he is forbidden by state ethics rules from accepting money for writing about the authority and thus never considered it an issue.

”It just didn’t occur to me to be an issue because it was in an area that I was precluded from writing about anyway due to ethics rules, and clearly, that was an error in judgment on my part,” Chieppo said.

When they hand out the “Error in Judgment” prize, Chieppo won’t be at the head of the line. (After all, he’s not a journalist, despite being paid by a newspaper.) No, the prize-winners are Cohen and the other editors at the Herald who didn’t smell conflict the second Chieppo’s name first was uttered.

As we noted here not so long ago, the most unfortunate aspect of cases like Chieppo, Vasilinda, Gallagher and Williams is not that there are plenty of people eager to make a fast buck pretending to be journalists. It’s that fewer and fewer journalists and editors seem to recognize the threat that these glaring conflicts pose to a profession whose continued existence depends on a public trust that’s already wearing thin.

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.