NPR radio host Michelle Norris announced in October that she would be leaving her position at “All Things Considered” in response to her husband taking a job working on the reelection campaign for President Barack Obama. At the time, Norris, who said she would continue working for the news organization in a different capacity until after election, made it clear that she would stay away from any presidential news stories in order to avoid potential conflict of interest.
“While I will of course recuse myself from all election coverage, there’s still an awful lot of ground that I can till in this interim role,” she wrote. “This has all happened very quickly, but working closely with NPR management, we’ve been able to make a plan that serves the show, honors the integrity of our news organization and is best for me professionally and personally.”
But Norris isn’t the only news-shaper who has a politically active spouse. She was just the only one being up front about the fact.
Now, conservative pundit and columnist George Will has admitted that his own wife has been serving as a paid adviser to multiple Republican candidates, from Michele Bachmann to Rick Perry, and also attempted to work with Mitt Romney, who did not hire her. None of this work had been disclosed by Will, who continued and still continues to cover presidential politics, showing intense criticism for the one candidate who didn’t offer his wife a job. Politico reports, “Since June 28 and as recently as last Sunday, on ABC’s ‘This Week,’ Will has used his role as a commentator to criticize Romney. On October 28, the Post published a column by Will that called Romney ‘a recidivist reviser of his principles who is not only becoming less electable; he might damage GOP chances of capturing the Senate.’”
So why is it that in identical situations, Norris felt she needed to disclose and step away from her position to protect her organization from conflict of interest, yet Will didn’t feel the same action was necessary in his case? Is it the political parties being associated with each, or the news station’s fears of potential retribution? Or could it be that there’s a general assumption that although a husband may be able to force a wife into positive coverage for his candidate, a wife doesn’t have the same sort of influence over her husband?
If Will isn’t asked to stop commenting on the Republican presidential race due to his non-disclosure, it seems obvious that the answer is the latter.
UPDATE: Will has now addressed the issue and says there is no conflict. “To columnist George Will, his wife’s role on Rick Perry’s Republican presidential campaign is little to worry about…Will, also a regular analyst on ABC’s “This Week,” said Sunday on the show the issue was ginned up by ‘some of the more excitable and less mature members of the Romney campaign.’”
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