Fox News provided a corporate jet to shuttle Tom DeLay from Texas to Washington and back for a Chris Wallace interview days after DeLay was indicted in Texas. Must be time for another conference on blogger ethics.
Four days after U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay’s stunning indictment last September in Travis County, the political talk show “Fox News Sunday” trumpeted an exclusive interview with the combative Texas Republican.
Unsaid, but revealed in documents DeLay later filed in the U.S. House, was that DeLay’s Oct. 2 appearance cost Fox News $14,000.
The money rented a private jet to ferry DeLay from a small airport near his Sugar Land home to Fox studios in Washington. The next day, after engaging in a give and take with host Chris Wallace, DeLay and his Capitol Police security detail were flown back to suburban Houston.
[I]n the often pampered world of Congress, private jets are the ultimate status symbol — most commonly provided by corporations to curry favor and let ride-along lobbyists bend the ear of a captive, and in theory appreciative, audience.
Three weeks after DeLay’s Fox appearance, for example, the former House majority leader traveled to his mugshot-and-fingerprint appointment in Houston aboard an R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. jet — one of 100 trips DeLay has taken on corporate jets in the past six years, tops in Congress, The Associated Press has reported.
The Sunday morning news shows routinely pay travel costs, from car fare to airfare, to get politicians into their studios, a review of congressional disclosure forms shows.
But chartering expensive jets to amuse a few million political junkies is rare.
NBC’s “Meet the Press” occasionally digs deep, paying $9,550 in travel costs to interview Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in 2000 and $9,000 to question Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., in person in 2001. “Face the Nation” and “This Week” also have chartered flights, spokeswomen said.
Large travel payments, a legal gift under congressional rules, nonetheless raise ethical questions.
“There’s an obvious potential for a conflict of interest here, and that is we might appear to the public to be paying for access,” said Al Tompkins, a teacher at the Poynter Institute school for journalists and author of “Newsroom Ethics” for the Radio-Television News Directors Association.
The size of the Fox News payment, and the program’s failure to disclose the $13,998.55 cost on the air, also troubled Tompkins.
“I do not think that it would be an obvious violation of any code of ethics if they paid a usual or customary cost — for example, if they even paid a first-class airfare,” he said.
Officials with the Sunday morning news shows, which often compete for the same faces each week, would not discuss whether charter flights are offered as an inducement for guests, saying only they are an expensive option of last resort.
But the expense can damage the shows’ credibility, said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
“I also would feel confident saying that Mr. DeLay or any other member (of Congress) is surely more likely to grant an interview from somebody who is going to send a corporate jet than somebody who says, ‘Get on a plane,’ ” Sloan said.
An almost half-hour interview with DeLay was a coup for “Fox News Sunday.” But it’s hard to say whether Fox got its money’s worth.
For weeks afterward, newspapers across the country quoted the interview, mentioning “Fox News Sunday.”
But the Fox show remained a distant fourth among the four Sunday news shows. And though 1.3 million viewers actually watched DeLay, it was 82,000 fewer than would tune in a week later to watch a panel of relative unknowns (including Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht) debate Harriet Miers’ future on the U.S. Supreme Court.