August 31, 2004
Dear Mr. Getler,
I am writing to express my concern that The Washington Post continues to print columns by Robert D. Novak in which he praises books published by Regnery Publishing, Inc. without disclosing his ties to that company.
For example, on August 9, the Post ran a Novak column titled "Veterans Against Kerry," in which Novak praised and defended the book Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry and its authors, John E. O'Neill and Jerome R. Corsi. But Novak didn't tell his readers that his son, Alex Novak, is director of marketing for Regnery Publishing, which published Unfit for Command.
Novak's conflicts of interest go beyond his son's employment at Regnery. Novak himself serves as a trustee of the Phillips Foundation, along with Thomas L. Phillips and Alfred S. Regnery. Phillips is chairman of Eagle Publishing, Inc., of which Regnery is a subsidiary. Alfred Regnery is a director of Eagle Publishing and, according to Eagle's website, is "president of Regnery Publishing, Inc." Eagle Publishing also publishes the Evans-Novak Political Report, which is edited by Robert Novak.
I know that you and editorial page editor Fred Hiatt take seriously the need for disclosure of columnists' conflicts of interest. In fact, on January 11, 2004, you wrote:
Fred Hiatt, editor of the editorial pages, says: "In general, more disclosure is usually better than less, and I would hope columnists would bring any possible issues to my or Alan's attention [Alan Shearer, chief of The Washington Post's Writers Group]."
[I]t seems to me that all journalists and commentators need to be scrupulous in making known any possible conflict of interests, real or likely to be perceived. Sometimes it needs to be done in print, but it certainly must be made known to editors, who can make their own decision before publication or distribution.
I hope that, in light of The Washington Post's stated desire for columnists to disclose their conflicts, the newspaper will refrain from publishing further Novak columns about Regnery books without disclosing his real and obvious conflicts of interest. I also hope the Post will make its readers aware of those conflicts that have already occurred.
I have attached an item from our website that contains additional information about Novak's conflicts of interest -- and his failure to disclose them. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
I look forward to your response.
President and CEO, Media Matters for America