This Sunday on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, one of the panelists, Cynthia Tucker, said the following about me: “. . . the Bush administration for heaven’s sake gave taxpayer money to conservative columnists like Maggie Gallagher to highlight, to speak favorably of, administration proposals.”
I do not blame Tucker in particular for misleading millions of viewers: The claim about me has been repeated often enough to acquire “truthiness.” But it is not true.
Briefly: The GAO investigated my government contract and found it to be proper. It was not a PR contract but an expert consulting contract, in which my main job was to draft brochures outlining the social-science evidence on the benefits of marriage for HHS clients and professionals. The Washington Post, which broke the story, clarified, “We have not written editorials about Gallagher; she was not paid to covertly espouse administration views in her columns.” The New York Times later issued a high-profile correction on its editorial page.
As a nationally syndicated columnist, I should have disclosed to my readers that I did a small amount of legitimate work for the government in my field of expertise. But I did not take taxpayer money to speak favorably of or promote administration policies. This claim, endlessly repeated, is still not true.
Here are some relevant source materials:
Wade Horn, assistant secretary of HHS (who oversaw the contract):
“‘There was never a penny that went to Maggie Gallagher that was being paid to her to utilize her role as a columnist to promote the president’s healthy marriage initiative,’ Mr. Horn said. ‘Not a penny.’” Anne E. Kornblut, “Bush Prohibits Paying of Commentators,” the New York Times, Jan. 27, 2005.
Fred Hiatt, “The Rules of Punditry,” the Washington Post, Jan. 29, 2005:
“We have not written editorials about Gallagher; she was not paid to covertly espouse administration views in her columns. She was paid, as The Post disclosed, to write brochures and essays for the Bush administration on marriage policy; and she separately praised the administration’s marriage policy in her syndicated column. . . . At a minimum, as she has since acknowledged, she should have disclosed her government payments in columns on the subject.”
Greg Mitchell, “‘N.Y. Times’ Offers Correction on Maggie Gallagher Editorial,” Editor and Publisher, Feb. 1, 2005:
“In a prominent move, The New York Times offered a correction on its editorial page today regarding a previous editorial concerning columnist Maggie Gallagher.”
Corrections, the New York Times, Feb. 1, 2005:
“An editorial last Thursday incompletely described the contract between the Health and Human Services Department and the conservative columnist Maggie Gallagher.
“The department paid Ms. Gallagher $21,500 as a consultant on marriage policies, including for help in drafting an essay that was published under the name of an assistant secretary. Ms. Gallagher said the contract did not include promoting the administration’s policies in her columns.”
Christopher Lee, “GAO Issues Mixed Ruling on Payments to Columnists,” the Washington Post, Oct. 1, 2005:
“The Government Accountability Office said yesterday that federal payments to commentator Armstrong Williams to promote President Bush’s education law were illegal but that a contract with syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher for work on the administration’s marriage initiative was not. . . .
“In a separate report, the GAO concluded that HHS did nothing wrong in 2002 when it hired Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and a columnist specializing in marriage issues, to serve as a consultant in the research and development of initiatives to strengthen marriage.”