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Should journalists be banned from making political donations?

Published: Tuesday, July 17 2012 3:35 p.m. MDT

Political news website the Daily Caller outed several reporters earlier this week for their financial donations to Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. While the Daily Caller’s Alex Pappas did highlight journalists who hold high-profile positions at places like the Huffington Post and the New York Times, Pappas’s piece also attacked relatively anonymous folks such as an NBC News cameraman and a woman who writes for a community newspaper chain.

Suffice it to say, Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple was not impressed by the Daily Caller’s reporting — and he drove home his point with biting tongue-in-cheek commentary about Pappas’s decision to incorporate information into the article about a community news reporter named Elizabeth Wiener.

“According to donation records, the Daily Caller noted in this late-breaking scoop, Elizabeth Wiener gave $500 to the (Obama) campaign in May and again in June,” Wemple wrote Monday. “What alibi, what excuse, what pretext could Washington reporter Wiener possibly muster for this unforgivable conflict of interest, this clear flouting of the rules of her profession?

“‘I (and my paper) don’t cover national politics,' she told the Daily Caller. Oh. Wiener must be referring to her beat at the Current Newspapers of the District of Columbia, a chain of papers that includes the Northwest Current, the Dupont Current, the Georgetown Current and the Foggy Bottom Current. … Even so, Wiener’s work must certainly collide with national politics at some point, right? ’Cause the Daily Caller wouldn’t single her out otherwise, right?”

Mediabistro’s FishbowlDC blog did some legwork and contacted both Wemple and Pappas for their reactions to each other’s stories.

  • Wemple: “It just popped out of the story. If the point of looking up these contributions is to police media outlets that may be predisposed to favoring President Obama, then I’d think you’d restrict the reporting to media outlets that cover President Obama. Pappas wrote to me on Twitter wondering why I’d take issue with a story that has information that hadn’t been reported before. Strikes me that there’s a reason why Elizabeth Wiener‘s donations hadn’t been reported before.”
  • Pappas: “I was confused why a media critic like Erik would criticize a reporter for revealing new facts. Isn’t that what we’re paid to do? I don’t have an opinion about whether a reporter should or should not donate to a campaign. I do think it’s completely fair for us to shed light on those who do, which is why I wrote the piece. Erik admitted in his comments section that he’s followed the local reporter’s work for a while, so maybe he’s just protecting a friend.”
In 2010, on-air personality Keith Olbermann made massive headlines when MSNBC suspended him without pay for violating company policy by making three campaign contributions to Democratic candidates running for Congress.
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