Can a News Person Support a Political Candidate and Still Be Objective In the News Business?

Wow, I don’t post for a week and suddenly two posts in one day.  This after I get two emails from former co-workers sharing the same tip.  It comes from MSNBC and is a list of journalists who wrote political checks.  The list shares the names and occupations of 144 news types who made campaign contributions from 2004 through the first quarter of 2007, according to Federal Election Commission records studied by MSNBC.com .

Among those 144 is Markova Reed, morning and noon anchor at WREG.  Here is what the article on MSNBC’s website said about Reed’s political activity:

(D) CBS affiliate in Memphis, WREG, Markova Reed, anchor of morning and noon news, $250 to Ed Stanton, a Democratic House candidate from Memphis, in January 2006.

Reed did not return calls. WREG’s president and general manager, Ronald A. Walter, said, “Yes, we do restrict employees, journalists particularly, from engaging in political activity. We don’t want people doing that. We feel that in this particular case it was an innocent mistake on her part, and we have handled it internally.”

First, a reality check:  IMHO, it can be difficult to completely remove one’s self from what goes on in the world.  Everyone has an opinion about things and while you try to be objective as you are supposed to be in the news business, you may like or not like a particular person in office or running for office.  That’s a reality.  Still, I think most would agree that one does not voice that opinion, especially if you are in the news business.  We’ve all seen what “Fair & Balanced” gets you.  The GM at the station DOTR  says it was an innocent mistake and that the issue has been dealt with internally.  I have no reason to doubt that.  But the bigger question is this: Should a news person, especially an anchor or columnist be allowed to support a candidate of his or her choice?  Can you support a particular candidate as long as you recuse yourself from writing or reading  on a broadcast, a story about the person you support or those running against your candidate?   Is it okay to tell people that you support President Bush’s policies on this or that.  Markova Reed has some good company on the list.  That doesn’t make it right but does it make it wrong?  Yes, you will be accused of being biased.  I would imagine that there are others in the media who support candidates and they just do it in ways there  their support is not detected.  I know my wife and I attended a Lincoln Day dinner as a guest of my mother-in-law who is a die-hard Republican.  I didn’t make a contribution and was there because my mother-in-law bought a table and wanted to fill it up.  It was free food and booze and I was a warm body.  I did want to hear what the candidates said.  I also have attended gatherings where Democrats gathered so I could hear what they had to say.  Again, I didn’t make a contribution but I did buy myself some drinks.

I’d be curious as to what others both inside and outside the news business have to say about the Markova Reed thing and the scenarios that I described.  The internet is now open.

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15 Comments on “Can a News Person Support a Political Candidate and Still Be Objective In the News Business?”

  1. Bishop333 Says:

    If she wants to support him, that her business. What she does own her personal time is her thing. I don’t unnderstand the big fuss. Are your feelings toward this personal against her or just your feelings? It’s obvious from your first postings that she is not your cup of tea. I am just curious to your post about this. I understand you didn’t make a contribution but your presence was just the same. If Mary Beth had done the same thing, would this even be an issue?

  2. The GM Says:

    I tell those who solicit political contributions I cannot give because it would give the appearance of bias. I find most take that explanation and it makes my life easier. As far as my on-air folks and producers, I haven’t asked but should. I would have a problem with their overt support of a particular candidate, cause or party. Frankly I think having messages of political support (like a bumper sticker or campaign button) on one’s desk is too much for what is supposed to be an unbiased profession.

    The GM

  3. Ted Says:

    Many media people use pen names in order to seperate real life from media life.

    Nothing new, but many news people use other names on the air. Dave Fentress was big in politics, but no one knew him by his real name.

    Care to guess???

    b
    e
    l
    o
    w

    former Radio personality Dave Diamond

  4. joelarkins Says:

    Conspiracy buffs stand down. I was NOT picking on Markova. I was also not responsible for what happened to JFK although I was in the 2nd grade at the time and knew of him. Markova just happened to be the Memphis media person on the list. If Marybeth had been on the list, the question would have been the same-is this a big deal or not? When Omari Fleming’s name popped up during the John Ford trial, I mentioned it as I would have anybody else’s name involved in local TV. It’s not personal, just interesting that’s all. Don’t make it more than what it is. And just for the record, there IS another media person from Memphis on the list. I didn’t find it, my wife did. It’s Barbara Bradley, the fashion editor at the Commercial Appeal.

  5. Les Nessman Says:

    If Barbara Bradley wants to support him, that’s her business. What she does on her personal time is her thing. I don’t unnderstand the big fuss. Are your feelings toward this personal against her or just your feelings? It’s obvious from your first postings that she is not your cup of tea. I am just curious to your post about this. I understand you didn’t make a contribution but your presence was just the same. If Mary Beth had done the same thing, would this even be an issue?

  6. bob Says:

    It isn’t about all media people. The issue is about those in the journalism end of the business.

    No, a single donation to a local candidate doesn’t seem like a big deal.

    That said, the idea of news people making donations to politicians makes me queezy. Perception. Appearance. That’s why newsrooms should have a strict policy against it. It bothers me that a news person would even be stupid or unthinking enough to do it. I wonder about their judgment and credibility as a news person.

  7. joelarkins Says:

    Conspiracy buffs stand down. I was NOT picking on Barbara. I was also not responsible for what happened to JFK although I was in the 2nd grade at the time and knew of him. Barbara just happened to be the Memphis media person on the list. If Marybeth had been on the list, the question would have been the same-is this a big deal or not? When Omari Fleming’s name popped up during the John Ford trial, I mentioned it as I would have anybody else’s name involved in local TV. It’s not personal, just interesting that’s all. Don’t make it more than what it is. P.S. Les, You and I have too much time on our hands)

  8. Richard Says:

    I must be stupid because I don’t see where Joe was picking on Markova. I am not in the television business in any way but I do watch the local channels out of Memphis and their newscasts. I find a lot of problems in the way channel 3 does their news but remember, this is MY opinion only!
    I watch enough “biased” news on satellite television and enjoy the non-biased news that local channels provide.
    If in the view of the public, be it a newscaster or politician, you best watch your “Ps & Qs” because someone is always watching you and ready to bring you down.

  9. Cliff Holland Says:

    This is America and everyone is entitled to there opinion and to donate monies as they feel led, regardless of affiliation! Information is knowledge and power.
    I enjoy hearing different views regardless if agree or disagree and bias is a freedom worth defending. I and only I choose what I believe in. And I have the freedom to change the station if I choose.
    Although towing the “company” line is important, personal freedom should not be controlled the “company”, news personality or not.

  10. Richard Says:

    Let me ask this. If you are hired as a newscaster for a television station, is it part of their “rules” that you restrict yourself from political activity and do they let you know this from the beginning? If so then Marcova Reed violated company policy and should be reprimanded accordingly.
    Skin color should make NO difference in this case.

    Any way to edit a post after submitting one before it’s approved?

  11. joelarkins Says:

    To my knowledge, I CAN edit MY posts after I approve them. I’ve never tried to edit a comment posted by someone else, so I don’t know if I can or not and I don’t even want to open up that can of worms. I will either approve it or not based on the general content. As people have witnessed, I generally let a lot slide….but not everything. I don’t know if that was what you were asking or not or if you were asking if YOU could edit a post after submitting one before it’s approved by the administrator. I don’t think you can.

  12. Richard Says:

    My question was meant to edit my post so that I can add to it instead of double posting Joe! That was all.
    I know you have the authority to post or not post a blog comment as this is your site.

  13. JD Says:

    Kids! Kids! Let’s all calm down a second here. This isn’t the “Matthews” web blog!

    First of all, a news organization cannot give or even seem to be “slanted” for or against a political entity for a number of reasons. Primarily because the responsibitly is to bring the news to the public in a clear and concise manner without any sort of negative/positive endorsement or taint. To do otherwise…. the FCC will hand you a pink slip and a hefty fine.

    Gordon Lawhead, of WHBQ, broke new ground when he became the first Memphis broadcaster to provide a political commentary which also provided the open opportunity to those opposing his views to come forward with equal time. Henry Loeb, the former Mayor of Memphis, did the same thing on “Q” years ago also. Norm Brewer is doing it every day at Channel 3. He used to do a political show on Channel 5 years ago…….innovative in it’s time!

    In Joe Larkins’ behalf I can say I know quite a few number of people who have worked with, and been around him for a long time. He would not “pick” on anyone. He is not the type to stab at you from behind and grin about it. He is as they say: “what you see, you get.” The comment about “if it had been Mary Beth” was uncalled for. Joe does apparently suffer from what most people call, an open, non-narrow mind.

    Private industry can, and will, promulgate it’s own rules as it sees fit to protect what the GM calls “the bottom line.” Such a rule as the non-compete clause that many of you in the broadcast industry may feel is unfair. Markova Reed is finding out early what it means by the fine print in her contract/rules. Embarrassing, yes, but a lesson learned none the less. I have no doubt that Markova committed a harmless error.
    I think that it is probably written in the rules somewhere between the period and the next semi-colon……”we do not openly, nor privately, support candidates for office nor, individual political parties, nor union organizations of any kind unless deemed appropriate by corporate on an as need basis. We also do not give the appearence of same”. (Walter Cronkite was the only journalist who has ever come out openly against a political situation and survived, to wit: Vietnam. Murrow only hinted at challenging McCarthy’s dog and pony show.)

    Just remember that in private industry it is coporate that controls the horizontal and corporate that controls the verticle. If one doesn’t agree, then one can freely choose to leave. There are hundreds of hungry kids scratching at the back door, wanting to get into broadcast journalism fresh out of college.

    Now back to our regularly scheduled program already in progress.

  14. Doug J. Says:

    Well, the tide of public support for Vietnam was turning by the time Cronkite spoke out against the war, no matter how LBJ reacted to losing Uncle Walter’s support, and Howard K. Smith quit CBS when the bosses wouldn’t let him quote Burke on the civil rights problem by suggesting that “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” And Anderson Cooper and Soledad O’Brien at CNN climbed all over Michael Brown and other Feds on the response to Hurricane Katrina. I say all that to say that more than one journalist has made their personal feelings known on political situations.

    Now, to the larger topic, it is perfectly acceptable for a station to insist its employees act in a certain way. They can’t climb in the voting booth with you, but if you’re putting out yard signs, it’s going to hurt the “objectivity” claims of the news promos. Looks bad if you’re supposed to be in the middle but are openly taking sides. The rules at the station DOTR have been pretty tough in the past. Shortly after the GM who recently left took over, he passed the word down to news folk that he didn’t want them to have ANY overt connections to local or national politics. He went a step further and banned the practice of a lot of outside involvement for news people — unless it was in station-sanctioned events.

    That became a problem during the shooting of “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” when he told one of the reporters she couldn’t take a speaking role in the film. She did it anyway, and he fired her — and found out after the fact that other station employees had gone ahead and participated without asking permission.

    Still — if you’re being paid to present an image — it’s up to the people paying the bills to say what that image should entail. If you want to go outside that, you need to work out a separate deal. Lou Dobbs expresses his opinions on air more than he used to because it’s okay with the bosses — particularly since it pulls in viewers. Had he done it without their support — he’d probably be standing on a corner with illegal immigrants every morning, hoping to get a day job doing yard work or construction. I believe that’s why Daryn Kagan lost support at CNN. Good anchor, but it seemed things changed after she began dating Rush Limbaugh. When he was going through his drug embroglio in Florida, they’d actually bring in another anchor during her show to read that story… or she’d go home, suddenly “taken ill.” The bosses worry about appearances — if they don’t control those appearances.

  15. joelarkins Says:

    Doug,
    As always, well put.
    Regards


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