Questions have been raised for some time about the ethics of persons who move from a role as political candidates to doing network programs and political commentator roles, or the other way around. Questions are also raised about those news networks who are keeping future candidates “on staff.” One has heard this issue raised regularly in private conversations, although rarely on air among media people. There is something about these moves which just doesn’t seem right to a lot of people.
Now it appears that leadership of some other TV networks have joined with some professional journalists in questioning or outright condemning this practice.
Look at these names: Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Newt Gingrich. These are three prominent names of past office holders and candidates for national office. Also Palin, Huckabee, and Gingrich are all commonly mentioned as likely candidates for the republican nomination in the 2012 presidential race. And all three are under contract for commentary and programming with Fox News.
Another Fox political analyst, Angela McGlowan, recently left her pundit job at Fox to declare her candidacy for congress in Mississippi the next day. Along with those above, this appears unseemly.
“As long as they are still newsmakers, there is strong potential for conflict,” says Andy Schotz, who is chairman of the Ethics Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists. He remarks that at the very least, this amounts to “an advantage for analysts and creates a perception of favoritism.” He does not say what else it does for the “news” network which so commonly follows such a practice, yet promotes itself as “fair and balanced.”
“It is a little awkward,” says David Bohrman, Washington Bureau Chief for CNN, adding that the networks employing such past and future candidates should realize that they are being taken advantage of by people who are posturing for election advantage. So, do we buy it here that Fox News is being used and manipulated by these candidates it purposely offers these lucrative, publicly visible positions, in front of the very distinct audience from whom they will be seeking basic support? Negative. From here it appears that they are in bed in a mutually beneficial back-scratching relationship.
None of CNN’s stable of political analysts and commentators are likely political candidates in 2010 or 2012. Pat Buchanan, a sometimes political candidate, has at times had limited roles on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and PBS, but he is an unlikely future candidate. Lou Dobbs, who left CNN and appears on Fox, has been rumored as a possible congressional candidate. When given an either/or choice, Chris Matthews chose to remain at MSNBC rather than become a candidate for the senate from Pennsylvania.
Fox News became a recent Washington joke when it promoted a Chris Wallace “exclusive interview” with Sarah Palin on Fox News Sunday. It should be rather easy to obtain “exclusives” with a person on your own payroll.
All this serves to highlight what an unholy alliance it is when journalism and politics become bedfellows.
Democracies in the history of western civilization have always depended upon “the fourth estate” to keep government honest or inform the people when government becomes corrupt, dishonest, or abusive of the citizens or the democratic process. Over the decades we have tolerated much from our press, and we have granted the press many privileges, because we have fiercely valued its independence from government.
While it is unseemly for even a single newspaper to engage in the unethical practices of news slanting, selective reporting, and outright political support of parties or candidates outside of its editorial and opinion pages, we have been more tolerant than we should be of those instances when this has happened. After all, this was only a single newspaper in a single city.
But we have learned how corrupting a monopolistic news source can be in states where one or two metropolitan papers control the information received by the people. When television came in around 1950, we had rules which prevented a major metro newspaper from owning a television station in the same news area. We also had rules against foreigners or foreign corporations owning television stations or networks.
But these rules have changed, and so has the level of involvement of news media in politics. The fairness doctrine was discarded, as were the limits on minutes per hour of commercials – much to our chagrin. Most such events, and the coming of Rupert Murdoch, occurred during the Reagan-Bush presidencies and the Gingrich dominated Congress. But that is a topic for another day.
Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard
AKA The Militant Moderate