Brian Montopoli takes a long look at the troubles with op-ed journalism in the age of Armstrong Williams. How do you catch these guys before they do their damage? Perhaps you cannot.
But I have a few suggestions:
1. Publish no op-ed column from single or institutional contributors until the writer comes clean, perhaps in a signed agreement, about all connections to a topic. (These connections may then be noted at the end of the column.)
2. Institute rules that ban any op-ed writer for life who fails to disclose. Share this information with other news organizations. (It’s not like these guys don’t grow on trees–they do. We won’t ever run out.)
3. Publish no syndicated columnist who isn’t employed by a reputable newspaper that accepts, at a minimum, the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists. (This one would be tough to swallow. It would cut out, for example, academics as freelance columnists.)
Will this stop the think-tankers and political shills from using op-ed journalism as a form of lobbying? Of course not. But having some standard, some statement that we’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, is a better reaction than the deer-in-the-headlights look currently on the collective face of journalism.