Conflicts of interest are not uncommon occurrences. In most professional settings, when these sorts of things occur they’re taken care of without much of a kerfuffle. If a football referee has a son playing on a football team, he doesn’t referee that particular game. Sometimes, in the interest of making things as aboveboard as possible, that referee won’t participate in a game that might even have some tertiary effect on his child’s game (e.g. If one team loses, then his son’s team makes the playoffs.)
The media and the government are exceptions to this rule. Both are notoriously resistant to dealing with conflicts of interest.
Case #1: Gannett
Madeleine Behr is covering Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential campaign for the Post-Crescent and USA Today. Problem: During the 2011 gubernatorial recall effort in Wisconsin, then-student Behr signed the petition to recall Walker. Behr shouldn’t be covering Walker. It’s one thing to vote against him in the privacy of the voting booth, but publicly signing a petition is another thing. When confronted by this conflict of interest, Gannett hid behind the ridiculous idea that a reporter’s fervently held beliefs don’t affect their reporting.
Joel Christopher, vice president of news for Gannett Wisconsin Media, responded to a Media Trackers inquiry about Behr’s assignment to cover Walker, saying, “We indeed are aware that Madeleine signed the Gov. Scott Walker recall election petition in 2011 because Madeleine made it a priority to tell us before she even interviewed for a reporting position with us.”
Christopher further explained that, “With Madeleine and every Gannett Wisconsin journalist whose work we put in front of the public, we invite people to read with a critical eye because we’re confident they will discover strong journalism reported fairly and accurately in a nonpartisan fashion in service of the public interest.”
Good for Behr for disclosing this, but the response needs to be: “We can’t have you covering Gov. Walker. Period.”
Case #2: State Department
The State Department has hired Janice Jacobs to be its “email czar” in charge of producing the selected emails which Hillary Clinton deigned to provide to the government. Jacobs has donated $2,700 (the legal maximum) to Clinton’s presidential campaign. (This isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened.)
The State Department’s response to this news? “Not relevant.”
“I would say we didn’t talk about it when we announced her yesterday because it’s not relevant,” [State Dept. Spokesman John] Kirby responded. “There’s no prohibition against doing that kind of thing. She’s the right person for this job because of the experience she has leading large organizations and enacting reform and change.”
Co-host Brian Kilmeade wasn’t convinced: “But if she put $2700 to make sure someone becomes president, and she has something in her hand to prevent them from becoming president, it’s hard for people to believe she’ll approach this in a balanced and judicious way.”
Exactly. But most of the media isn’t interested in pointing out this conflict of interest, so Kirby can do his Baghdad Bob imitation and it won’t make the Big 3 evening newscasts or merit a mention on their big morning shows.
Kirby is a disappointment. The former military man has proven that he will say anything required of him to get ahead. The U.S. military continues to turn out its Courtney Massengales.