New Speech Rules Anger TV Vets
By Alicia C. Shepard
Alicia C. Shepard is a former AJR senior writer and NPR ombudsman.
A handful of ABC reporters expressed their displeasure this summer when Senior Vice President Richard Wald decided to ban paid speeches to groups they "cover or might reasonably expect to cover," all trade associations and all for-profit businesses (see "Talk is Expensive,'' May).
In a memo distributed to 109 news staffers, Wald wrote: "It isn't just how big a fee is, it is also who gives it.... Rather than get into the details of what reasonable men and women might do, we have decided on a general prohibition.''
ðBC declined to provide a copy of either Wald's memo (which AJR obtained elsewhere) or a letter of protest said to include signatures from Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts, Jeff Greenfield, David Brinkley, Brit Hume and five other reporters.
"We are trying to come to an understanding about a sensible good rule,'' says Greenfield, who covers the media and says he is sensitive to the conflict issue. But, he argues, "a conflict for one correspondent may be no conflict for another.''
ýen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) took the cause to the Senate floor in July, asking that journalists limitÑor at least voluntarily disclose – their fees. "The public has a right to know,'' Grassley said, "who in the world would pay $30,000 for a 20-minute speech.''
Many news outlets besides ABC have policies to ban or limit speaking fees; some critics believe fees should be banned universally. James Warren, the Chicago Tribune's Washington chief, has suggested derisively that ABC's Washington reporters shouldn't expect to change Wald's mind by whining that they need the fees to keep their kids in private schools.