From Journalism to Politics

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on May 23, 2008

Following up on yesterday's announcement that former ABC News reporter Linda Douglass (who most recently worked for National Journal) had taken a job as a senior adviser/spokeswoman for Sen. Barack Obama's campaign, there's some reporting that raises questions on what sorts of disclosures Douglass should've been making in the weeks and months leading up to yesterday's job announcement.

From yesterday's New York Times report on Douglass' hire:

Ms. Douglass said she maintained contact with his team after she left ABC News in 2006 to study partisan gridlock at New York University and, later, when she had a journalism fellowship at Harvard.

At Harvard in April 2007, she said, she attended two days of debate preparation with Mr. Obama, helping him anticipate questions he might face at a coming debate.

Ms. Douglass said she agreed to help only because she was not working as a journalist and did not expect to return to the business. She said she was enticed to join as a contributor to The National Journal that June because she was excited by the campaign and respected the magazine’s approach to politics. She said she told direct supervisors there about her involvement in the debate preparation.

Fair enough. That was the right thing to do. But, in addition to telling her direct supervisors about her connections to the Obama campaign, she should've told National Journal's readers too. I've tried to see if this was done as a tagline or disclaimer on Douglass' reporting, but much of National Journal's content is for subscribers only.

Then there's this interesting tidbit from Howard Kurtz's report.

Marc Ambinder, a former colleague at ABC, calls Douglass "eminently fair," but says her appointment "will give media critics plenty of ammunition to attack the press." He also notes that her husband is a major Obama fundraiser.

Douglass' husband is a "major Obama fundraiser"? Wouldn't that have been an important thing for Douglass to disclose in her National Journal reporting too?

Shouldn't Kurtz himself had Douglass disclose either or both of these facts when she appeared on Kurtz's CNN show "Reliable Sources" on May 4? Did Kurtz know either of these things? Would he have disclosed them if he had known? Would he have had Douglass on to opine on May 4th had he known?

I've sent off an e-mail with those questions to Kurtz. I'll publish his answer if he responds.

(In contrast, Fortune magazine's Nina Easton, a regular commentator on Fox News' "Special Report with Brit Hume" regularly discloses the fact that her husband works for Sen. John McCain.)

I've no beef with Douglass spending the past year reporting on the presidential race. I've not looked at her reporting to see if it was biased. The problem I do have is with the lack of public disclosure of her more-than-passing ties to the Obama campaign.


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