Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ethics Corner

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ethics Corner

Article excerpt


Revolving door between politics and journalism spins (again), and The Man Who Would Be President pops out as a professor

It was 1984 -- George Orwell's year.

U.S. Rep. Al Gore, D-Tenn., was running for the U.S. Senate and wanted to embarrass his Republican opponent. So he turned over some damaging documents to The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz on alleged mismanagement at Ronald Reagan's Federal Emergency Management Agency.

But Gore needed more than a nasty story to put him over the top. He wanted Kurtz, now a media reporter, to write him up as a crusader, which is the custom on Capitol Hill when a congressman leaks details of an investigation in which he's involved.

"I know these things are unspoken," Gore told Kurtz in a conversation the reporter relates in his book, "Media Circus," "but I am in a tough race for the Senate. I want to make sure I get some credit on this." Kurtz told Gore he would take note of the congressman's good works.

Hopefully, the former vice president has a notebook full of those political-press relationship war stories for his national-reporting- affairs seminar at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where he is starting his post-chad life as a visiting professor.

Anecdotes aside, one thing is certain. His appointment at one of the most prestigious journalism schools in the country confirms what readers have suspected for years -- there is barely any separation between political reporters and the people they cover. That perception will be reinforced at political fund-raisers where Gore's title as a visiting professor of journalism will be duly noted in the dinner program.

Gore is getting a pass from grown-up journalists who point to his days in the early 1970s as a reporter for The Tennessean in Nashville as evidence that he deserves once again to be one of them.

But his reporting days there received a negative review on ethical grounds from a student journalist who was outraged to learn that Gore joined forces with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to catch a couple of allegedly sleazy councilmen in a shakedown scheme.

"Imagine if a Spectator reporter figured out that a [student] council member was taking bribes from a campus group," wrote Dan Laidman in a recent column in The Daily Spectator, the undergraduate newspaper. "Would it be ethical for the Spec to work with the dean of student affairs to entrap the council member?"

But Laidman's idealistic vision of journalism seems to be running against the tide. …

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