The natural thing to recall is that Bennett made national headlines a few months ago when he declared on his radio program that if “you wanted to reduce crime … if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.” There was considerable debate about whether his comments were taken out of context, but the controversy surrounding the remarks led to widespread denunciations, including from the Bush White House.
Before this brouhaha, Bennett’s last major contribution to the political world was news that the nation’s virtue czar had a gambling problem. (In the wake of the controversy, Bennett said his “gambling days are over,” though he later amended that to say “the excessive gambling is over.”)
But perhaps the most disconcerting aspect to Bennett moving to CNN is the questionable journalistic integrity he showed while working as a commentator for Fox News. Bennett would appear regularly on all of the major FNC programs and consistently, as one would expect, defended the Bush administration. Unfortunately, Bennett never disclosed the fact that his primary business venture at the time was on the administration’s payroll.
Money from a federal program intended to expand public school choice has instead been used to prop up a scheme cooked up by William J. Bennett to boost home schoolers in Arkansas, Education Week has reported.
Newspaper staffers David J. Hoff and Michelle R. Davis report that a for-profit firm called K12, Inc., run by former Education Secretary and “drug czar” Bennett, has received $4.1 million from the U.S. Department of Education…. One department employee involved in the process, who wished to remain anonymous, told Education Week, “Anything with Bill Bennett’s name on it was going to get funded.”
Possible corruption aside, as far as journalism is concerned, the problem was one of disclosure. Bennett was on the administration’s payroll while appearing on TV offering commentary about the same administration. A minimum standard of journalistic ethics suggests viewers should have been made aware of Bennett’s possible conflict of interest.
Bill Bennett seemed to believe he could secure a lucrative Bush administration contract — under suspicious circumstances — one day, then turn around and offer analysis of the administration as a political pundit the next. As long as viewers were none the wiser, Bennett figured, there’s no conflict.
And now Bennett appears poised to bring this same level of ethical, professional commentary to CNN. Great.