Buckraking is the practice whereby a journalist is paid to speak to a business or right-wing group for large sums of money, and buckraking is a serious offense (it's also apparently against NBC's corporate policy). James Fallows wrote about it in his important book Breaking the News, but it became a mini-scandal during the Enron episode. To his credit, Howard Kurtz wrote about the practice.
I've been critical of journalistic buckraking since the mid-1990s, when I wrote about a $30,000 speech that Sam Donaldson had given to an insurance group. The gilded trail of corporate honoraria quickly led to such luminaries as David Brinkley, Robert Novak, David Gergen, Cokie Roberts, Christopher Matthews, Larry King, Mark Shields, Fred Barnes, George Will and Michael Kinsley, who memorably said: "I didn't do it for years, but it became more socially acceptable." King likened it to "white-collar crime." Many refused to discuss it on grounds they weren't public officials.
White collar crime? Yech, that's pretty bad. Kurtz goes on.
The issue began to fade as a number of news organizations, including ABC and NBC, banned the practice.
Did Miklaszewski break company policy by accepting this speaking fee? It certainly would seem he did (he's listed as a speaker for hire on speaker provider Barber and Associates' web site). Chris Matthews fell into a bit of hot water last year for apparently accepting speaking fees from special interest corporate groups, and Rick Kaplan, then MSNBC's President, made it clear that the policy for news anchors at NBC was that buckraking would result in firing.
According to Kaplan, while these groups may have paid fees for Matthews to speak, the fees did not go to Matthews directly, but to a charity of Matthews's choosing. Kaplan added that NBC policy prohibited anchors from personally accepting speaking fees and anyone who did so "would risk being fired."
So what's the deal, NBC? Kurtz reported the corporation banned buckraking in 2002. Kaplan sort of reiterated that last year, conceding the principle that accepting speaking fees from political groups is a firing offense for NBC anchors (though not just regular TV journalists). This is especially important to know because there are no disclosure requirements for television journalist stars, we have to rely on the reputation of the news division itself.
Anyway, it seems worthwhile to figure out if this practice is a regular occurance at NBC, and if they've reversed their policy. Is the pay-to-play once again explicit?