On journalists and campaign contributions

I have posted a couple of pieces at Herald Watch about a recent MSNBC investigation into journalists that make campaign contributions to politicians and political parties, often in violation of their company’s ethics policies. Two south Florida journalists were named in the piece, one from the Miami Herald and the other from the Sun-Sentinel. Both companies prohibit their journalists from making campaign contributions.
But as I sit here pondering the situation I find myself disagreeing with such policies. In my opinion journalists should be allowed to contribute their money wherever the hell they want. But what should be required is full disclosure. Then the consumers of the media can make a determination, for themselves, if what they are being fed is objective news or partisan propaganda. Such policies are intended to conceal a journalists ideological leanings and therefore dishonest.

6 thoughts on “On journalists and campaign contributions”

  1. I disagree completely. One thing is having opinions and being open about them, perhaps even wearing them on your sleeve (and even that, depending on what kind of journalism you are supposed to be doing, is too much).
    Making contributions to a campaign or political part during a period where you are actually working as a journalist it, however, is unacceptable to me, and I’m shocked from reading that report that so many of those outlets didn’t have explicit policies forbidding such contributions until well after 2000.
    Consumers of the news should be aware of where their news is coming from and make informed decisions about that sort of thing, but it shouldn’t be something that the consumer needs to be wary of or investigate all the time. We should have media outlets and journalists whose policy it is to leave no reason for us to think that they may be tied by money to any of what they cover. Remember, in a society like ours, money does way more than talk.
    Those policies aren’t meant to conceal leanings or be dishonest. They’re meant to keep the journalist’s leanings from materializing into something more than opinion. For the purposes of the finished product, it is JUST as harmful to the consumer for the journalized to give preferential treatment to the journalist as it is for the jounalist to give it to the journalized.
    As a student of journalism (and I’m just a student… right now I could do just about whatever I want and it won’t matter), I can tell you I registere with no party, contribute to no campaign.
    You don’t give up your rights when you go into this business. That is true. Firefighters also don’t give up their right to get fat, but most of them don’t because they know it will make them less effective.

  2. We’re gonna have to agree to disagree.
    The idea of media objectivity is a sham that is perpetuated by these policies. A journalist’s opinion on an issue or a candidate is not going to change because he does or does not donate money to a campaign. The only thing these policies do is help keep their personal viewpoints a secret.

  3. but it shouldn’t be something that the consumer needs to be wary of or investigate all the time.
    That’s the argument that advicates of campaign finance reform use to abridge our rights to political speech.
    Full disclosure and caveat emptor is the answer. If candidate a wants to take $1 billion from George Soros, fine. But everyone is going to know that he took the money and will judge him accordingly. If people are too lazy to find out about who they are getting their info from, it’s their problem.

  4. “The only thing these policies do is help keep their personal viewpoints a secret.”
    I can tell you plenty about the viewpoints of a lot of reporters (not editorial or opinion columnists, but reporters) without having to find out about their campaign contribution history.
    The problem here isn’t strictly one of keeping the public from having to worry about who is and who isn’t propagandizing. It also minimizes the risk of inappropriate or viewpoint altering relationships from forming.
    There will never be a robotically-neutral reporter . We’re all human. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do everything in our power to make sure our writing is as objective as possible. This is as much an issue of the effectiveness of the reporter as it is the trust of the public.

  5. I just don’t see how prohibiting campaign contributions does anything to make a reporter’s writing more objective. I think the opposite is true. A reporter who is shut out of the electoral process will try to influence it the only way he can.

  6. A reporter who knows his contibutions are public knowledge will take great care to avoid appearing partisan. At least if he’s smart.
    Why does the Today show disclaim the fact that Universal studios is a sister company when it does a segment on one of its movies? Obviously so that the viewer can make determination about the movie with the knowledge that the report came from a company that has a stake in the matter.
    Similarly stock analysts have to disclose which companies they own shares of.
    Driving reporters political leanings underground isn’t the answer in my opinion.

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