The LA Times’s James Rainey, upon learning that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman received $75,000 for speaking recently to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, called the Times with some questions. To justify the fee, Rainey reports, a Times spokesperson “noted that the columnist ‘flew across the country at their request’ to make the appearance…conducted ‘a lengthy Q and A…so they were getting not only the presentation but a chance to talk with him and ask him questions’,” that Friedman often waives his fee, makes his speeches available free on his web site, and “gives generously to charity.”
Rainey reports that “Times ethics guidelines allow staffers to take speaking fees only from ‘educational and other nonprofit groups for which lobbying and political activity are not a major focus,’” and that this group “hardly fits that bill.” Late yesterday, the Times spokesperson called Rainey to say that Friedman would be returning the money.
Public disclosure of large outside payments, say of $1,000 or more, would allow us to keep better tabs on what’s driving the press.Liz Cox Barrett is a freelance writer and graphic designer in Kalispell, Montana. She worked as a newspaper journalist in Denver and Kalispell for 20 years.