(D) U.S. News & World Report, Amanda Spake, senior writer, $250 to John Kerry in August 2004. Spake covered public health issues and policy. Now a freelance writer, she is on a fellowship from George Soros' The Open Society Institute to study the health effects of Hurricane Katrina.
"I went to a luncheon for Kerry," Spake said. "I had friends who were organizing that luncheon, and I felt I had to do it."
As for any conflict of interest, she said, "I never covered politics. I covered public health. It did not impact my coverage one bit."
The responses by these reporters to being asked about their contributions are very similar:
- My spouse gave and my name was on the check
- I gave to a dear friend
- I went to an event and made a contribution because it was expected
Let's face it, the issue is not the appearance of a conflict of interest. It is apparent that if you give to Left wing causes, you will view that side of the political divide more sympathetically.
To me this is simply validation of the bias that exists in the media. I agree with Newsday writer Rita Hall who stated:
My view is: You're still going to have an opinion whether you admit to it or not. If you don't admit to it, you're being dishonest. Let's be transparent."
I should hasten to add that I find her political views repugnant.
The bottom line is that companies, even media companies, should not have policies that forbid employees from making political contributions. I like the transparency of being able to see what a person's political views are, and political contributions are a proxy for those views.
At the Muskegon Chronicle, a daily newspaper in Michigan, reporter Terry Judd gave $1,900 to the Democratic National Committee in six contributions from 2004 through 2006; and $2,000 to Kerry in March 2004. "You caught me," Judd said. "I guess I was just doing it on the side."
His editors said they're not sure there is an "on the side."
"This information makes us want to think farther and more deeply about what we encourage and discourage in reporters," said the metropolitan editor, John Stephenson. "We have always historically said, you guys can have any political beliefs you want. Just don't wear your hearts on your sleeve or your bumper.
And there is the problem. The editor is not bothered by the fact that one of his reporters clearly has a bias. He is bothered that this bias is exposed as the result of the publicity he is receiving.
If I were the editor, I would want to know if my reporters tilted 9 to 1 for the Left. Why? Because the country does not tilt that way and the people who put out the daily product are not in tune with their customers.
And that means that the paper's customers are wondering why the Muskegon Chronicle is emphasizing the Right's sins while downplaying the Left's.
And dissatisfied customers are getting the product that you are trying to sell from the competition: talk radio, Fox News, the Internet. It's an industry trend that is now all over the internet, in trade publicantions and the financial press if not the daily paper for the "masses."
And it's not an issue of the emphasis of a specific story, although those are easiest to spot. It's the reportorial and editorial decision as to what to write about and what to omit. There is no enough room in the daily paper to write about everything that happens so decision have to be made about what is important and what is not. Newspapers decided the Valerie Plame's identity was important and were the driving force behind the Special Prosecutor and "Scooter" Libby's conviction. They decide that "Sandy" Burger's theft of classified documents was not important so his wrist slap was not denounced and questions were not raised about why he decided to give up his law license rather than answer questions about the theft and destruction of secret government records having to do with the Clinton administration's reaction to terrorist attacks and Osama Bi Laden.
Bias? From my side of the ideological divide it certainly seems that way. If you are a Democrat and favored the Clintons you would consider these issues unimportant, and choose not to pursue them. If there was ideological diversity in the media, there is a high degree of likelihood that both stories would have been pursued with equal fervor.
In fact, to show my ideological bias, I would have stopped the investigation into the Plame affair after I discovered that Richard Armitage was the leaker and charged Armitage if the leak was criminal.
Jonah Goldberg has it right when he says
"Given the ease of Internet access to public records of campaign contributors, readers might actually find out that reporters take sides, and the best proof is that they put their money where their mouths are."
More Goldberg on newsrooms that forbit or discourage contributions:
Okay, so with this flat-out bans at many organizations and serious discouragement at many others, the ratio of journalist giving is still nine-to-one in favor of Democrats! Does any non-crack-smoking psychopath or moperer think that if CNN, NPR and the New York Times easer their policies that the ratio would even out? Would the Washington Post's ban-lifting suddenly cause huge amounts of shmundo to fall into RNC coffers?
My guess is that if you took away the restrictions and the social pressure, that number would at least triple.
More Goldberg HERE, and HERE.
From Captain's Quarters:
Unfortunately, the reaction of these media outlets tends towards cover-up rather than openness. In that sense, they take a page from modern campaign-finance reform by trying to solve a problem through top-down suppression of political action rather than just opting for full disclosure. As my friend Paul Mirengoff notes, demanding an end to political donations does nothing to establish balance or objectivity; it just hides the evidence of bias a little more effectively. It hides information from the news consumers that could give them a more informed basis on which to judge the product.