Will Political Concerts Re-Ignite Ethics Debate?

Article excerpt

So will any reporters pay to get into the Barack Obama benefit concert by Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel on Oct. 16 in New York -- or any of the other election campaign concerts sure to take place in this month?

And if they do, will they be suspended, fired, or otherwise reprimanded for essentially contributing to the Obama campaign by way of their ticket?

Perhaps. Four years ago, a series of concerts by Springsteen and others that were touted as fundraisers for then-Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry sparked debate over what constitutes conflict of interest and personal activities.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press suspended two reporters in 2004 for attending one of the pro-Kerry "Vote for Change" concerts that raised money for political causes. The move prompted a formal grievance at the time by the Newspaper Guild.

Vicki Gowler, then-editor of the Pioneer Press, had issued a warning memo to staffers not to attend the concerts headlined by Springsteen and others if their beats suggested a potential conflict. Because their assignments spanned such a broad spectrum, Gowler considered the two suspended scribes to be in conflict. "They get involved in covering things that relate to politics and elections," Gowler, now editor of The Idaho Statesman in Boise, said at the time.

In fact, Gowler said then that she had been planning to assign one of the reporters to follow a story surrounding a new computer voting system for Minnesota that involved a Republican Secretary of State.

"I don't know how I would explain to readers if they challenged why one of these reporters was covering a Republican state officeholder on a controversial state issue," Gowler said then. …