Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Term Limits for Washington Reporters?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Term Limits for Washington Reporters?

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT CLINTON, A few congressmen and citizens across the country are again united in full cry for Congress to reform campaign financing by passing legislation in the upcoming Congress.

Public pressure is fine, but that's only half of what's needed to make it happen.

The press, too, must be convinced to pay serious attention to the buying and selling of elected officials. And that means editors and publishers must order reporters to track the flow of political money to candidates -- before elections, not after them.

But even that probably will not do the job.

The only sure answer is to impose term limits for political reporters in Washington. Forget about term limits for congressmen.

Six years ago, I suggested in these pages that editors rotate reporters out of Washington after a five-year hitch. Any longer than that, they are too housebroken. That -- with obvious exceptions -- still sounds about right to me.

We usually do just fine chasing the money trail after voting day. Look at the current post-election hysteria over campaign financing excesses.

But where was the press until two or three weeks before the election, when the outcome had become a done deal?

Even then the bombshell story about Asian money reaching the Democratic National Committee did not come from the working press. It came from the investigative work of an ex-Los Angeles Times reporter, Dwight Morris, and his partners.

The story surfaced in the Times on Saturday Sept. 22, inside the paper, yet. Precious few reporters picked up the scent.

The real heroes of this ongoing dirty little story were not not the big foot political reporters. They were Morris; Chuck Lewis, of the Committee on Public Integrity; Ellen Miller, then of the Center for Responsive Politics; and Kent Cooper of the Federal Election Commission.

There is good reason why most editors and political reporters have kissed off the story of the political money trail: It's hard work requiring intense digging. No one spoon-feeds you this stuff.

So, what has happened? To fill the vacuum left because editors don't assign staffers to cover the story, Morris and his band of four former newspaper reporters formed a company last fall called the Campaign Study Group. They have since hired out to a growing list of clients, including USA Today, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Minneapolis Star Tribune, ABC, NBC and a weekly column on the Internet. …

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