Are Journalists Allowed To Have a (Political) Life?

When politics and the press meet, everyone seems to get a little uncomfortable. But how removed from the political arena do we really expect our reporters to be, and how does that rule apply to the rest of media? It’s a debate that is beginning to get more attention as it is revealed that at least 25 Wisconsin reporters signed petitions to have Republican Governor Scott Walker recalled from office.

According to Romnesko, 25 news employees of Gannett newspapers had their names discovered among the massive list of voters who believe Gov. Walker should be recalled from office. The employees said that they considered signing to be a private event, like voting, and that it shouldn’t be considered an ethical violation.

Gannett disagrees. “Our journalists are expected to provide you with the clearest picture of the news as it develops with objectivity and impartiality. And, as readers, you must be able to trust that your newspaper is providing you the most complete picture, without bias of any kind….We now are in the process of taking disciplinary measures and reviewing supplemental ethics training for all news employees. The principle at stake is our belief that journalists must exercise caution and not cause doubts about their neutrality, especially at a time when the media is under a microscope and our credibility is routinely challenged.”

None of the news staff involved, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette, actually report on the race, or politics, or have any say over political stories at all. But that hasn’t stopped the executives from declaring that they will be punished for their actions.

It’s one thing to try to protect a publication from all potential claims of bias, even if the steps taken are very extreme. But Gannett, like many news sources, appears to have a policy for staff that doesn’t match up with the policy for management or owners. While reporters, editors, photographers and such are utterly forbidden from any move that could potentially look like politicking or party or candidate preference, the management and owners are busy contributing to political candidates and causes of their own. In fact, as much as conservatives complain incessantly about the alleged “liberal media,” a study of corporate media owner campaign donations has proven that wrong. The media owners and executives tend to donate more regularly to Republicans, or, at the very least, whomever is in office at the time.

So where does it end? It’s one thing to be unable to donate to candidates or drive a car with a party bumpersticker when you are a political journalist. But signing a recall petition with millions of other signatures, especially when you happen to write for the sports page? Is that really some sort of ethical violation?

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Lynn C.
Lynn C.4 years ago

Huh? ? ?
"Our journalists are expected to provide you with the clearest picture of the news as it develops - (and get this) with objectivity and impartiality." Ha ha ha!! That's the biggest laugh I've had about the news media in a long time - objectivity and impartiality - ha ha ha...

Ron B.
Ron B.4 years ago

First show me a Republican who is an actual journalist and not just a lying corporate mouthpiece. The worthless right-wing fascist propaganda mongers who call themselves "journalists" certainly have a political life. Too bad it's modeled after Joseph Goebbels and Nazi Germany.

Nancy Roussy
Nancy Roussy4 years ago

Outside of their work yes but not while at work! The job of a journalist is to report the truth without lying, insulting, judging and giving their opinions!

Jeffrey W.
Jeffrey W.4 years ago

"Parents who use the school parking lot for PTO or parent-teacher meetings are not bound by the same rules. That's the source of the pro-recall bumper stickers still in evidence. A GOOD journalist would have hauled his lazy butt out of his own car, gone inside, and asked about it before printing a statement ANYWHERE, even in a one-sided and poorly written blog."

Now you are simply making up facts not in evidence.

Jeffrey W.
Jeffrey W.4 years ago

And Jeffrey, you should really know what you're talking about before you post. Objectivity was taken out of the journalistic code in 1996. Too many journalists were just regurgitating press releases and statements without any investigation or corroboration at all and calling it "objectivity."

I'm afraid you are the one ignorant here. Every major newspaper and news outlet claims objectivity, and a separation of news and editorial. In fact they regularly burst into tears when you question that.

Jeffrey W.
Jeffrey W.4 years ago

"When owners and editors can give to campaigns or editorialize on one side or the other, the fact that journalists, not covering politcal stories, are signing petitions is somehow a violation of ethics is just plain wrong"

What an amazing display of ignorance of the wall that is supposed to exist between the news and the editorial departments of a news organization.

Jeffrey W.
Jeffrey W.4 years ago

"Oh ! Jeffery, i see your at it again!
The case your talking about is the sign on school property! schools don't allow advertising or political signs on the property!"

It is really amazing how you can be so wrong every time. As the article clearly stated, the sticker was on the bumper of her car, and the lot was filled with prop-union bumper stickers, which the school seems to have no problem with.

Charles P.
Charles P.4 years ago

As long as a "journalist" as differentiated from a "talking head" does not go public in their political beliefs, then they certainly have the inalienable right to sign a recall petition. I would stand with those who advocate for and use their rights any day over the bosses.

Julia W.
Julia W.4 years ago

Real journalists do have a different standard then the rest of us.

No, they don't get to sign petitions, or post election signs on their cars or in front of their homes. (Which, I understand, can lead to marital strife.) They can vote and that's IT.

Recall the woman who did a local public radio broadcast on *opera* and was removed from her job for also participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement...

Amie K.
Amie K.4 years ago

This is total BS. So what, reporters don't get to vote either for fear of having an actual opinion??

I suppose if my very corporate American company knew of my liberal actvitism they would be looking to give me a pink slip too. But my politcal leanings have NOTHING to do with my work.