Some readers will have heard that Michael Fumento, well-known pundit and controversialist, has been fired from his post at Scripps-Howard. Eamon Javers of Business Week broke the story of how Fumento had received some $60,000 from Monsanto without disclosing the relationship. If you look in the comments after that article, you'll see a lot of arguing about whether this was money for a book, for op-eds, whether it went directly to Fumento or not, and so on.
The problem is, none of that matters much. This column by Cathy Seipp is a good explanation of why that is. If you're going to set yourself up as a journalist, you can't take money from the people that you're going to be writing about. Even if there's room to argue, you have to at least disclose what's going on.
Update: here's Fumento's published response to Seipp and the Business Week article.
Fumento has been a vigorous defender of the pharmaceutical and biotech industries over the years, of course. And according to Seipp, there had been suspicions that he had been well-rewarded for his enthusiasm. "Has anyone read a pro-biotech piece. . .that doesn’t practically smell like solicited spin?" she asks.
Well, yeah, I have, but it's one that I wrote, so maybe that doesn't count. I'm in an odd position here, because the journalism is a nights-and-weekends thing with me, while the day job is in the very industry that I write about. That gives me some unique strengths - I like to imagine, anyway - but it also means that anything I write can automatically be discounted as the product of someone who's already been paid for.
That's why I spend little or no time talking about the products of the Wonder Drug Factory where I work, because
you can count them on one hand that wouldn't be right. I'm definitely not a spokesman for the company where I work. But for the industry in general? Yeah, informally I guess I am, because I find the work interesting and important enough to speak up for it.
That doesn't mean that I get paid extra for that role, and it doesn't mean that I like everything that goes on in the drug business, either. It is, after all, a business, not some sort of higher calling. Scientific research might qualify as a higher calling, under the right circumstances, but that's only one part of the drug industry. I'm just fortunate that doing the science overlaps as well as it does with making a living.
So there's my disclosure statement. I'm never going to do the under-the-table pay-for-punditry thing, because where I stand should already be clear. Where a byline of mine appears will be where the money's coming from. I'm pro-research and pro-pharmaceutical, because that's what I do for a living. But it isn't love, and it isn't blind.