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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Pundit Envy 

Congratulations to Howard "Mistah" Kurtz of the Washington Post, who has flushed out another hooker-for-Bush. If Armstrong Williams was Imperial Margarine, Maggie Gallagher is the low-priced spread:
"The Bush marriage initiative would emphasize the importance of marriage to poor couples" and "educate teens on the value of delaying childbearing until marriage," she wrote in National Review Online, for example, adding that this could "carry big payoffs down the road for taxpayers and children."

But Gallagher failed to mention that she had a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help promote the president's proposal. Her work under the contract, which ran from January through October 2002, included drafting a magazine article for the HHS official overseeing the initiative, writing brochures for the program and conducting a briefing for department officials.

"Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing it?" Gallagher said yesterday. "I don't know. You tell me."
Let us put it as diplomatically as we can, Maggie: Yes! Not only did you violate journalistic ethics, you are such a low-rent streetwalker you should be snorting coke off Robert Evans's defibrillator pads!

We are fascinated by the income disparity between Mr. Williams ($240,000) and Ms. Gallagher ($21,500). Does it reflect the importance to the administration of the respective programs they were paid to promote? Or were the payoffs based on the relative power and prestige of the pundits themselves?

Talk about your looming crises. Once the salary structures become public, resentment will inevitably set in among the members of the bought-and-paid-for pundit class -- and a mass outbreak of deal envy could spell finis for the Bush administration. How many C-list commentators are reading the news and thinking Jesus! They paid Armstrong Williams a quarter-mil for No Child Left Behind? I interviewed a different Swift Boat Vet every day for a month, and I'm only making a hundred K! How many A-list pundits are thinking Goddammit! That useless hack Armstrong Williams makes $240 grand? I'm worth ten Armstrong Williamses. I flogged that bullshit Atta-in-Prague story for three fucking years and I barely cleared a million total. I've got my retirement to think of! And for that matter, how many right-wing warbloggers are thinking $21,500?? I singlehandedly brought down Dan Rather, and all I got was a souvenir lightstick and a personally autographed photo of Lynndie England nude! (And the six-pack, of course. And the burrito. Actually, I made out pretty good!)

Of course you know what happens next: the agents get involved. Sorry, gents. For $1500, it's a "private" account. If you want my client to write about "personal" accounts, we're talking three gees a pop. And I mean every time he uses the phrase. Five mentions in one column? That's fifteen large. Take it or leave it! Negotiations break down. A parcel arrives on Karl Rove's desk. Dear Karl: Here's your bow tie back. You know what to do with it.

At first Rove tries to hang tough; he sends Cheney to make the rounds of the Sunday shows, denouncing various pundits as "pessimists," "partisan pawns," and "traitors who are really no better than Osama bin Laden." But the next morning when he opens the paper it's like finding a horse's head in his bed: a front-page expose on kickbacks to Big Pharma. An editorial that's pro-gay marriage and another that's anti-tort reform. A blind quote from a "high-ranking source" who says Bob Novak has decided, as a matter of patriotism, to tell the judge exactly who ratted out Valerie Plame. The White House has no choice but to cave.

Before long they're shelling out billions in pundit fees.

For a while they're able to cover up the payouts by diverting money earmarked for vehicular armor in Iraq -- until that cocksucker Hackworth starts sniffing around. Next they go to Allawi, who slips them what's left of the oil dough from the Iraq reconstruction fund. That angle works nicely for a few weeks, but then Chalabi threatens to rat them out and they have to appoint him deputy P.M. What the hell are they going to do now?

A light bulb goes on over the President's head. Drawing on his experience in professional sports, he announces the institution of a "payola cap." All hell breaks loose.

The pundits stage a walkout. Without their talking points and RNC blastfaxes, they have nothing to say, but of course they're pundits; they have to say something. As a last resort they start telling the truth. They blurt out everything they know about Bush. The public is stunned at first, but eventually comes to appreciate the new brand of honest, hard-hitting investigative journalism -- because this is, after all, America, the cradle of participatory democracy, and the people of this great land will pretty much gobble up anything you shovel their way.

The President is impeached and relocates to Poland, one of two countries that have agreed not to extradite him to the Hague. (The other is Iraq.) His popularity there remains high. Over a lunch of kielbasa and cabbage he is asked by a Polish journalist if he can think of a mistake he made -- if he has any regrets. After a moment's reflection he replies: "I never should have traded Sammy Sosa."

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