WASHINGTON – I have often wondered why everyone in this town thinks alike.

Now I know. They are all paid by the same master.

That’s the conclusion I am beginning to draw following the latest disclosure that a prominent columnist-pundit has been on the take from the Bush administration.

First it was Armstrong Williams confessing his journalistic sin of accepting a $240,000 payoff from the Bush Education Department for promoting the expansion of the federal government’s unconstitutional grab for power over schools.

Then came the disclosure that Maggie Gallagher took a mere $21,500 in payola to pimp Bush’s $300 million initiative promoting marriage.

I wonder what I would be worth if I wanted to whore myself out to do propaganda for the federal government?

What is going on here?

Are there others? Is everyone on the take but me?

I feel like Serpico.

At least Williams apologized. At least he recognized he had made a mistake. At least he didn’t play dumb. Of course, he also didn’t offer to pay back the $240,000.

But, incredibly, Gallagher claims she is ignorant of any journalistic sin.

“Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing it? I don’t know. You tell me,” she said in an interview with the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz.

I gotta believe Howard told her the same thing I would have told her: Yes, in spades. You didn’t just violate journalistic ethics, you blew them up. You destroyed them. You rewrote the textbook. You are off the map of journalistic ethics. You have helped to ensure that the phrase “journalistic ethics” is considered an oxymoron – something like “trial lawyer ethics” or “snake-oil salesmen ethics.” You have lowered not just yourself to professional prostitution, but you have impugned the character of your colleagues as well as those who came before you and those who will with any good fortune replace you.

Does that answer the question?

Let me explain what the principle role of the free press in a free society is for Ms. Gallagher: It is to serve as a watchdog on government. It is our special duty to expose corruption, fraud, waste and abuse in government. That’s our No. 1 job.

Apparently she never heard this. That is why the founders of this great nation considered the press such a vital institution that they established, for the first time in the history of the world, special constitutional protections for the institution in the First Amendment.

The press is supposed to serve as yet another check and balance in a system of checks and balances. But the press is unique as an independent guardian of liberty with a special duty to be skeptical – even cynical – of government and the power it wields.

What is wrong with these people?

Have they no self-respect?

If you want to do public relations for the Bush administration or any other part of government there are plenty of public relations jobs to be found – too many, in fact. Don’t pretend you are an independent journalist or free-wheeling commentator while you are actually performing as a prostitute for government.

I know. I know. The Williams defense – and, no doubt, the Gallagher defense is this: “I didn’t do anything differently because I took the money. I was already in favor of the policy I was promoting. The money didn’t affect my position on the issue.” Nonsense. That’s a cop-out. I’m sure plenty of other prostitutes would be promiscuous whether or not they were getting paid.

So now, I suppose, it’s time for all of us who have never taken a dime from government at any level to shout it from the rooftops.

I never have and I never will accept taxpayer money. My news organization never has and never will accept taxpayer money. It’s a no-no.

Least of all would I permit myself or my news organization from accepting taxpayer funds to promote government or any government program.

This is not a breach of journalistic ethics. It’s an abomination of journalistic ethics.

Do I make myself clear?

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