The Great Spouse Double Standard – Wife Steps Down While Husband Doesn’t Disclose

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.’”

Photo credit: Flinga, on wikimedia commons


Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

Women tend to be more diplomatic, generally speaking.

Debra M.
Debra G6 years ago

The difference is that Michelle Norris works for an organization that is actively pursuing the most balanced reporting that is humanly possible, while others do not make the effort. NPR has an ethic that makes others look puny next to it, so that is why Will hemmed and hawed before addressing the mounting criticism. NPR tries, and strives to find the balance, but really no one else does.

Jose M. C.
JOSE M. C6 years ago

I'm don't think I understand why ABC's inaction should make it "obvious" that gender inequity is the key factor. Most of us would agree that while integrity in the news media is in short supply, the greatest dearth by far is on the conservative side.

D. T.
D. T.6 years ago

Thank you for the article.

Hope S.
Hope Sellers6 years ago

Integrity is not part of the GOP agenda.

Monica D.
Monica D6 years ago

I do not think that a spouse's politics necessarily determine the other's. In some cases they are quite independent. Perhaps each situation needs to be judged on its own merits.

Jan W.
Jan W6 years ago

An honest sense of integrity and ethics seem to be guiding Norris and I respect her for that.

Will, on the other hand seems not to understand the concept of integrity and that makes me question his ethics. How can I believe someone who can't understand that his wife's involvement with candidates is a conflict of interest?

I don't think there is enough evidence here to determine any sexism.

Naomi M.
Naomi Miskimins6 years ago

noted. Thanks for posting

Michael Kirkby
.6 years ago

Some people just have a higher sense of ethics than others I guess. Too bad we couldn't get all the politicians and financial leaders to be as forthcoming; transparent and accountable as this lady. It may not seem like much but it is a step in the right direction.

Alicia N.
Alicia N6 years ago

noted. Thanks for posting.