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A look at the news, politics and journalism in today’s 24-hour media.

Can Reporters Ethically Join the Obama Administration?

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UPDATE, 11 p.m. Eastern, Feb. 18: Calderone defends his story against charges that it was slanted against Democrats.

A number of people are starting to question the latest craze for mainstream media veterans of jumping to the Dark Side to work for government, specially the Obama administration and the Democrat leadership on the Hill. Once considered a suicidal leap in journalism, the trend is growing in light of the fact that so many newspapers are cutting staff (see the list on the blogspot version of this page, for example) as well as the fact that most journalists are in-tune with what the new president is trying to accomplish.

Michael Calderone of Politico explored this phenomenon extensively:

In an interview, [Jill Zuckman] said that she began looking around for a new job last month, motivated by the grim state of the industry — her employer, the Tribune Co., recently slashed its D.C. bureau — and also by her own feeling that she’d accomplished what she’d set out to do covering politics.

She said she had no plans to go to the administration — until she heard about an opening under Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican representative she’s long respected for reaching across the aisle.

So, would Zuckman have taken — or even been offered — such a job if [Sen. John] McCain were president?

“I have a great deal of respect for [McCain] and have thoroughly enjoyed covering him over the years,” Zuckman said. “But there’s no way I can answer your hypothetical because I wouldn’t know who he would have chosen for secretary of transportation. My decision to go to work for the Obama administration is tied up in my relationship with Ray LaHood and his focus on getting the economy back on track.”

Conservative Michelle Malkin calls it “Obama’s own little MSM bailout program.”

Zuckman isn’t alone. She’s the latest of a number of high profile journalists who have crossed sides. Calderone provide this following rundown:

*Scott Shepard of Cox is now Sen. John Kerry’s speechwriter.
*Doug Frantz, formerly an investigative reporter, is now chief investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is chaired by Kerry.
*Tribune’s Peter Gosselin is now a speechwriter for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.
*Time’s Washington Bureau Chief Jay Carney is now Vice President Joe Biden’s communications director.
*Warren Bass left the Washington Post’s Outlook section to write speeches and advise Dr. Susan Rice at the United Nations.
*Daniel W. Reilly left Politico to become communications director for Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
*Linda Douglass left the National Journal for the Obama campaign in May and is expected to become assistant secretary for public affairs in the department of Health and Human Services.

The ethical question is once you have jumped over that fence, can you jump back and expected to at least pretend you are covering politics down the middle of the road? The political question is whether this is a sign of a glaring media bias during the campaign or just economic realities?

Of the journalists flocking to government jobs, Pew Project Director Tom Rosenstiel told Calderone that: “There’s no mystery here, and I don’t think the key to this is ideological as much as economic. The newspaper industry, in Washington in particular, is suffering mightily.” The Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism recently published a report on “The New Washington Press Corps,” describing the decline of the Washington Press Corps.

But Brent Bozell had a different take for Calderone:

“If you are in journalism, and you can so easily fit in the world of politics, it tells you something,” Bozell said, “that you were not that detached from it when you were in journalism.”

Perhaps proving Bozell’s point, journalists say that there used to be more stigma attached when a reporter crossed over to cover someone he’s covered. Now, they say, it’s hard to consider a colleague a sell-out when the alternative to a government job could be the unemployment line.


Written by newscycle

February 18, 2009 at 4:33 pm

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