My rate card

A journalist’s offer to sell his soul to the Bush administration

Photo Illustration by Carey Wilson

Freelance writers make very little money, and they get zip for benefits, which is why most people with the brains God gave lichen find more rewarding ways to spend their time. I’ve been freelancing for over a quarter-century now, and in that time I’ve sold perhaps 3,000 pieces to magazines and newspapers across the nation. Those 3,000 pieces have yielded an income of approximately $84.37, after deducting postage and taxes. Figured another way, I’ve been selling the product of my brain and my fingertips at the rate of about a penny for every 500 words.

There are, of course, those who would argue that I’ve been overpaid, and that’s another reward that goes with freelancing—any reader with the ability to form letters into words can also form a negative view of the freelancer’s intelligence. Or his sexual habits. Or his mother’s virtue.

All of which is to say that the rewards of freelancing are, in a word, negligible. In a nation where corporate CEOs make an average of $10.7 million annually, and movie stars command even bigger money for simply saying the words other people write, the choice of freelancing as a career isn’t a choice made by many people who have successfully mastered the intricacies of tying their own shoes.

And it may be this very lack of intelligence that has kept me from cashing in on the bonanza of cash available to me through the Bush administration’s kindly “Support for Journalists” program, a subsidy for writers that has funneled millions of taxpayer dollars into the hands of those “journalists” willing to say what the administration wants said in exchange for money.

Armstrong Williams, for example, got nearly a quarter of a million dollars from the Department of Education in exchange for scribbling and/or uttering a few words of praise for the “No Child Left Behind” program, and Maggie Gallagher, a syndicated columnist, picked up $21,500 from Health and Human Services for coming out fearlessly in favor of marriage. All told, the Bush administration has spent over a quarter of a billion (with a B) of taxpayer money on “public relations contracts,” a euphemism for buying what has been called “covert propaganda.”

Thus far, however, I have yet to receive a dime of the money earmarked by the administration to supplement the pay of “journalists.” Apparently, the Bush administration’s strong commitment to no-bid contracts kept them from seeking me out, but I could have saved the taxpayers a great deal of money.

On the Maggie Gallagher deal, for instance, I would have been willing to extol the benefits of marriage for a tenth of what they paid her. And, for a mere $25,000, I’m sure I could have found something to like about Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” spin on education. What they could have saved on Armstrong Williams by going with me would have paid the annual salaries of five or six teachers.

I figure the reason I’ve failed to be included on this gravy train is that I haven’t been conducting myself in the entrepreneurial spirit that’s become so fashionable in this new century. As a rapidly aging relic of the old century, I have for too long held onto some quaint notions about not selling out, and those notions have cost me plenty. It’s well past the time I rectified that situation and started acting like a pro. I haven’t put out a rate card yet, nor have I advertised, and that circumstance needs to be corrected immediately.

The way I worked this out is that the price of my opinion should be in direct proportion to just how much I have to fake it. In other words, I shouldn’t charge the government very much to write things I truly believe, but if I’m asked to write an opinion that violates my personal belief system or is just a flat lie, the feds, and you taxpayers, really should have to pay more for that. After all, if I’m going to start prostituting myself at my age, I shouldn’t begin that new career as the cheapest whore on the block.

If the administration wants me to do a piece extolling the honesty and decency of Tom DeLay, that’s gonna cost ’em, but if the price is right, I’m more than willing to cough up or choke down a few thousand words under the title: “Tom DeLay: Son of God, or Just a Really Good Person?” In that piece, I will make the case for both possibilities and, in the now-sanctified Fox “News” formula, we’ll just let the readers decide. My price: $100,000, plus expenses.

That seems to me to be more than reasonable; it is a fraction of the amount DeLay has taken from corporate interests in violation of what used to be the ethical standards of the House of Representatives. Those standards no longer apply, of course, because when “the Hammer” got in trouble, he merely changed the personnel on that committee, stocking it with people who were less fussy about such matters.

Or, if the image of Donald Rumsfeld needs plumping up, as most people would concede it does, I’m willing to whip up a puff piece on Rumsfeld’s love of kitties and bunnies. With a little luck, the piece might make the cover of Pet Lover’s Monthly, a publication serving a demographic that is beginning to get a bit shaky for the Bush administration. My fee: $150,000, which will include a small donation to the SPCA. If, on the other hand, the administration decided it wanted a piece entitled “Donald Rumsfeld: Self-Serving Nutball,” they could have it from me for 10 or 20 bucks, depending on length.

Here are a few other prices:

“Alberto Gonzales: Attorney General Reveals the New Face of Compassionate Conservatism": $50,000

“Karen Hughes: Huge in the ‘hood": $32,500

“The Paul Wolfowitz Guide to Managing Money": $75,500

“What the Liberal Media Won’t Tell You About Ted Kennedy": Detailing the hair piece, the cross dressing and those unexplained weekends when he might have been at Michael Jackson’s ranch; $110,000

“Muslims Love Torture: How the Koran Created a Culture of Masochists, and How the U.S. Set Out to Serve Their Needs": $89,500

“Reducing Poverty the Old-Fashioned Way: Re-examining the Wisdom of the Poor House": Advocacy journalism; $44,550, plus research expenses.

“Playing Nice With Others: The John Bolton Approach to International Diplomacy": $82,998

“Karl Rove, Babe Magnet": $75,000

“Condi’s Conk: The Secretary of State Shares Secrets of Natural Hair Care": $95,098

“Following the Bush Plan to a Secure Retirement": $225,000

“George W. Bush, Master Communicator": $500,000 (which will include the cost of creating examples of Bush’s language mastery)

Aside from these examples, I’m fully prepared to write pieces to order. Any position needed on any subject imaginable. Rates negotiable. Contact me c/o this publication or online at Opinionstogo, a full-service government support opinion provider.

Now that opinion and even news have become commodities for sale on the open market, I anticipate a solid upturn in my fortunes and a much warmer relationship with the politicians who have, heretofore, been something less than helpful.