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Columnist denies being paid to push Bush policies

Syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher
CNN Access
Maggie Gallagher
Carol Costello
Howard Kurtz

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher who supported the Bush administration's initiatives to strengthen marriage worked for the agency that crafted those policies, the second pundit to admit taking government funding recently.

Gallagher told CNN anchor Carol Costello on Thursday that she was wrong not to divulge this information to her readers, but she denied being paid for her opinions. She also said her situation was different from that of commentator Armstrong Williams, who acknowledged his firm received Department of Education funds to promote the No Child Left Behind Act.

GALLAGHER: It's true that The Washington Post has made that charge [that I was paid to promote the president's marriage proposals] and Howard Kurtz. And, Carol, and I'm just here to say, if the question is -- did I take money from the Bush administration to promote its policies? -- to me that's about the most serious thing you can say about me professionally. It's completely false.

COSTELLO: But you did do work for the Bush administration?


COSTELLO: And they did pay you $21,000.

GALLAGHER: I am a marriage expert. You know, a lot of people know me. I do a syndicated column once a week. But I've spent 90 percent of my time for the last 20 years on research and public education on marriage.

You know, we've got 24 million fatherless kids in this country, you know. And my work has been centered around research and public arguments about how important it is to strengthen marriage so that more children grow up with their own married moms and dads.

In 2001, HHS [the Department of Health and Human Services] came to me and they said, "We don't have anyone in-house with the expertise on the social science evidence and making public arguments about marriage. Would you help us? Would you draft some brochures for unwed parents telling them about the benefits of marriage? Would you write -- you know -- gather together the evidence on marriage education, because [Assistant Secretary] Wade Horn wants to do an article? Can you come down and talk to regional HHS managers and review the social science evidence on how marriage matters?" And I said sure.

You know, it's not unusual for the government to hire experts to come and do things in their field of expertise. And there was nothing wrong with it.

COSTELLO: But I think the rub here is. ...

GALLAGHER: And this is what I'm going to say. You know, researchers and scholars right now who are writing for The New York Times and The Washington Post, you know, don't typically feel like that anytime they do a government-funded research project they have to mention it.

COSTELLO: Well ...

GALLAGHER: But when I put in my journalist hat, I'm a syndicated columnist as well. And Howard Kurtz asked me, "Well, should you have disclosed this?" I think the answer is yes that it was a mistake. I should have mentioned it, and it won't happen again. But I'm not.

COSTELLO: Well, OK, stop for just a second. Stop. Let me get a word in edgewise here.

GALLAGHER: I'm sorry. Thank you. Sorry.

COSTELLO: OK. The rub here is you accepted that money to do a specific kind of research for the Department of Health and Human Services. Howard Kurtz notes that you once wrote on National Review online that the Bush marriage initiative would emphasize the importance of marriage to poor couples. That's exactly what you did your research on. So there is a problem here, isn't there?

GALLAGHER: No, there isn't any problem here. It is very common for experts to be hired to do particular research projects on their expertise. There is nothing wrong with HHS hiring me or any other marriage expert to do brochures, to do research, to make presentations. The only thing ...

COSTELLO: But if you're writing a column about it, isn't it in the public's best interest to know that you did some of the research that promoted that policy?

GALLAGHER: Carol, I just said that I think that I ought to have disclosed it. But that's not the charge that's causing a media frenzy right now. The charge that's causing the media frenzy is that I am now being portrayed as the second journalist who has taken money from the Bush administration to promote its policies.

And the story that the media wants to run on, or least members of the media wants to run on, is that this is now a pattern. And the pattern runs straight through my reputation and credibility. I mean I'm not rich. I'm not that famous. All I have is that I'm a person who cares about ideas and who's trusted to give my point of view as fairly and reasonably as possible. And it's simply not true that what I did is take money to promote the Bush marriage policy.

COSTELLO: Let's talk about the other syndicated columnist accused of doing this, Armstrong Williams. He accepted $240,000 to push some of President Bush's proposals. How does that differ from what you did?

GALLAGHER: Well, I think that what -- first of all, I know nothing about Armstrong Williams personally -- so I'm relying on the press accounts. If you take money from the government or from anyone else and in order -- if you accept money in order to say things in your column or your television show, then you're -- you know -- there's no worse thing that you can do personally. I mean, I don't even want to defend that.

If that's what you think I did, if it's what anyone thinks I did, I think it's indefensible. But doing work and getting paid for it is what writers, it's what researchers do. It's what scholars do. And there is nothing unethical or shady about it.

COSTELLO: I guess it begs the question after all of this -- is how many more columnists have done work for the government and accepted payment, or who are accepting payments directly from the administration to push an agenda?

GALLAGHER: If the question is, how many people who have written for The New York Times or The Washington Post or similar op-eds are doing government-funded research, it's a really large number of people, and most of them are Democrats. There's hardly a researcher involved in [academia] who's done serious work on the subject who doesn't accept government money of some kind.

And to lump that in with the question of what apparently happened in the Department of Education, which is they went out and tried to buy media, I mean, I think that's wrong. I'm glad the president says that we shouldn't do that.

But that is not what happened here. This is not what I did. And I just can't sit still and let that be said about me because there is no worse thing you can say about a journalist or a scholar than that their opinions are bought.

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