Q. What do MacNeil/Lehrer‘s Mark Shields, U.S. News & World Report‘s Steve Roberts and Gloria Borger, syndicated columnist Haynes Johnson and former New York Times reporter Hedrick Smith have in common?
A. They all receive a weekly paycheck from Lockheed Martin, the nation’s largest military contractor.
The pundits are paid to appear on a D.C.-area radio talkshow, WMAL-AM‘s Look at Today, that is sponsored by the conglomerate; their checks come directly from Lockheed Martin, a company spokesperson told Washington City Paper (8/4/95).
Nationally prominent pundits don’t usually appear as regular commentators on local radio shows, even in Washington, D.C. Local stations generally can’t afford the famous journalists. Giant military contractors can afford to pay appropriate fees, of course- -but what exactly do they think they’re buying?
A company dependent on government contracts obviously needs to stay on the good side of the Washington elite. What better way than by sending regular checks to some of the city’s most influential pundits–especially those who are considered liberals, and might be expected to be critics of Pentagon spending?
Mark Shields, for instance, is positioned as the “left” edge of conventional wisdom on MacNeil/Lehrer and CNN‘s Capital Gang–but is hardly a critic of the military. (He once wrote a column that said that “anti-military bias” was the “anti-Semitism of the American intelligentsia and elites”–Rocky Mountain News, 3/1/94.)
But not everyone sees a conflict of interest in the Lockheed Martin arrangement. When asked by City Paper whether being in the pay of a major military contractor posed a problem, Steve Roberts was unconcerned: “We all work for corporations and it baffles me that people see this as any different. It’s not.”
That’s what we were afraid of.