Traditionally, many news organizations have applied the rules to only political reporters and editors. The ethic was summed up by Abe Rosenthal, the former New York Times editor, who is reported to have said, “I don’t care if you sleep with elephants as long as you don’t cover the circus.”
But with polls showing the public losing faith in the ability of journalists to give the news straight up, some major newspapers and TV networks are clamping down. They now prohibit all political activity — aside from voting — no matter whether the journalist covers baseball or proofreads the obituaries. The Times in 2003 banned all donations, with editors scouring the FEC records regularly to watch for in-house donors. In 2005, The Chicago Tribune made its policy absolute. CBS did the same last fall. And The Atlantic Monthly, where a senior editor gave $500 to the Democratic Party in 2004, says it is considering banning all donations. After MSNBC.com contacted Salon.com about donations by a reporter and a former executive editor, this week Salon banned donations for all its staff.
What changed? —Bill Dedman —Journalists dole out cash to politicians (quietly) (MSNBC)
Also of interest is a long list of excuses/apologies/evasions offered by reporters and editors who made partisan donations. Several of the donors were up front about their attitude, saying that as reporters they don’t give up their right to participate in the political process. But in many cases, their employees have a policy in place that stipulates exactly what a news employee must do in order to prevent the appearance of bias from affecting the public’s faith in the publication’s ability to present the news honestly, without bias.
This response from the copyeditor of The New Yorker is illuminating: “I’ve never thought of myself as working for a news organization.”