Why Has The Washington Post Stopped Disclosing George Will's “Out-And-Out Conflict Of Interest”?

The Washington Post is allowing George Will to engage in an “out-and-out conflict of interest” by promoting the work of a conservative advocacy group that's connected to him through financial grants.

Will wrote a June 25 Post piece attacking Chief Justice John Roberts and the Supreme Court's recent decision on the Affordable Care Act. For support, Will cited a lawyer for the Institute for Justice (IJ), who claimed that the United States is becoming “a country in which all the branches of government work in tandem to achieve policy outcomes, instead of checking one another to protect individual rights. Besides violating the separation of powers, this approach raises serious issues about whether litigants before the courts are receiving the process that is due to them under the Constitution.”

The Post columnist has regularly cited the Institute for Justice in his columns in recent years. For instance, Will cited the group's work on May 21, 2014; April 30, 2014; and January 22, 2014.

Will and the Post did not disclose that the Institute for Justice is funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, where Will is a member of the board of directors. The foundation notes on its website that it “substantially supports IJ.” The Bradley Foundation directly gave IJ over $500,000 from 2011-2013 (the most recent year available), according to its annual reports. It awarded IJ's president, William H. “Chip” Mellor, a 2012 “Bradley Prize” along with a stipend of $250,000. The foundation states that board members are responsible for grant-making decisions.

The lack of disclosure is perplexing given that the Post previously noted Will's financial connections to IJ. A Nexis search for “Institute for Justice” and “Bradley Foundation” in the Post did not return any results except for an August 21, 2009, correction about Will's ties (“he is a board member of the Bradley Foundation, which has contributed funding to the Institute for Justice”).

Washington Post writer Erik Wemple has criticized his colleague's “out-and-out conflict of interest” in previously promoting Bradley Foundation recipients, explaining:

Here, Will touted an outlet funded generously by a group he helps to lead. And thanks to the columnist's kind words, WILL [Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty] may have an easier time finding funders outside of the Bradley Foundation. All very cozy, synergistic and, as media critics might say, an out-and-out conflict of interest -- an offense of which Will has been accused before.

Will defended himself regarding his lack of disclosure last year, claiming, in part, that “I see no reason -- no service to readers -- to disclose my several degrees of separation from the program: My tenuous connection has no bearing on what I think about what they do. There comes a point when disclosure of this and that becomes clutter, leaving readers to wonder what the disclosed information has to do with anything.”

Media ethicists and journalism veterans have criticized Will for the practice, calling it a breach of journalistic ethics. As Media Matters has documented, Will has a long history of ethical misfires despite being long employed by a leading national newspaper.