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[We] identified 144 journalists who made political contributions from 2004 through the start of the 2008 campaign, according to the public records of the Federal Election Commission. Most of the newsroom checkbooks leaned to the left: 125 journalists gave to Democrats and liberal causes. Only 17 gave to Republicans. Two gave to both parties.
The pattern of donations, with nearly nine out of 10 giving to Democratic candidates and causes, appears to confirm a leftward tilt in newsrooms — at least among the donors, who are a tiny fraction of the roughly 100,000 staffers in newsrooms across the nation.
The donors said they try to be fair in reporting and editing the news. One of the recurring themes in the responses is that it’s better for journalists to be transparent about their beliefs, and that editors who insist on manufacturing an appearance of impartiality are being deceptive to a public that already knows journalists aren’t without biases.
“Our writers are citizens, and they’re free to do what they want to do,” said New Yorker editor David Remnick, who has 10 political donors at his magazine. “If what they write is fair, and they respond to editing and counter-arguments with an open mind, that to me is the way we work.”
The openness didn’t extend, however, to telling the public about the donations. Apparently none of the journalists disclosed the donations to readers, viewers or listeners. Few told their bosses, either.
Several of the donating journalists said they had no regrets, whatever the ethical concerns.
“Probably there should be a rule against it,” said New Yorker writer Mark Singer, who wrote the magazine’s profile of Howard Dean during the 2004 campaign, then gave $250 to America Coming Together and its get-out-the-vote campaign to defeat President Bush. “But there’s a rule against murder. If someone had murdered Hitler — a journalist interviewing him had murdered him — the world would be a better place. As a citizen, I only feel good, as a citizen, about getting rid of George Bush, who has been the most destructive president in my lifetime. I certainly don’t regret it.”
Ah yes, the fine reporter would have killed President Bush—who is just like Hitler—but darn it, that’s illegal. So instead he gave $250 to a left-wing group.
[Note: After publishing this post, a reader pointed out that the Mark Singer quote I originally cited no longer reflected the quote contained in the article on the MSNBC website. However, the Wayback Machine indicates that the original version of the MSNBC article was as I quoted it.]
There’s a longstanding tradition that journalists don’t cheer in the press box. They have opinions, like anyone else, but they are expected to keep those opinions out of their work. Because appearing to be fair is part of being fair, most mainstream news organizations discourage marching for causes, displaying political bumper stickers or giving cash to candidates.
Appearing to be fair is about as related to being fair as appearing to be pregnant is to actually being pregnant. A woman I know was once asked how far along her pregnancy was. She wasn’t pregnant. And she was not amused.
If Mark Singer had not contributed $250 to America Coming Together, he would appear to be more fair. But in the absense of that contribution, he would still be a journalist who implies that President Bush should be murdered because he’s morally equivalent to Hitler.
Sure, Singer might appear more fair, but would you trust him to actually be fair?
Related: A study on party affiliation of New York Times editorial staffers.