Journalists and publishers make political contributions
With a few days until the election, journalists are coming under more scrutiny for being biased. Now, data from the Federal Election Commission on campaign contributions has revealed that journalists who are covering and editing politics are donating to campaigns during this campaign cycle.
On Oct. 17, The Center for Public Integrity released an article titled “Journalists shower Hillary Clinton with campaign cash” claiming that journalists have given “$396,000 to the presidential campaigns of Clinton and Trump,” 96 percent of which they claim went to Clinton. Yet this figure includes the donations of many reporters who don’t cover politics, news or even business.
However, there are a number of news editors, producers and reporters who have made political contributions at news organizations such as The New York Post, Newsday, Fortune Magazine and CNN that CPI didn’t mention in its article. The contributions of this group of individuals are more clearly ethical violations.
In doing so, many of these journalists violated their news organizations’ code of ethics or conduct. Some of the employees denied that their contributions constituted a conflict of interest, while others cited their first amendment rights to donate.
The news editors, reporters and producers mentioned in this article who donated to campaigns totaled only $2,896 in donations. A fraction of the $396,000 that CPI reported.
However, none of the 19 individuals who listed their profession as journalist and contributed the per election maximum to Clinton, $2,7000, cover news or anything related to U.S. politics. That accounts for $53,000 of the total of $382,000 that CPI reported was donated to Clinton’s campaign by journalists.
While the donations made by journalists mentioned in this article account for a much smaller dollar amount than what CPI, these journalist’s conflicts of interest are a much greater problem.
One of the most high-profile examples is The Wall Street Journal’s former chief of the Global Real Estate and Property bureau, Constance Mitchell-Ford. Mitchell-Ford retired in December 2015, but she donated $500 in September 2015 to Suzan Johnson Cook, a Democrat who was running for Congress in New York. The code of conduct for Dow Jones & Company, which owns The Wall Street Journal, states that all news personnel “should refrain from partisan political activity,” including making financial contributions to a candidate’s campaign.
Dow Jones did not respond to multiple requests for comment about Ford’s donation.
The largest amount of donations made by a media member came from Gary Kaminsky, host of Fox Business’s Wall Street Week. In 2016, Kaminsky donated $25,000 to the Trump Victory Fund, of which $19,600 went to the Republican National Committee and $5,400 went to Donald Trump. In addition, he donated $10,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. However, 21st Century Fox allows employees to donate to campaigns.
Fox Business did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Five editors at major publications donated to Democratic candidates or causes. Two of those editors had written about or interviewed the candidates prior to donating.
Dan Mennella, a news editor at The New York Post, wrote about a bird landing on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ I-VT podium on Mar. 25. Over the next two months, Mennella donated to Sanders five times for a total of $99 in contributions.
Mennella declined to comment, and The New York Post did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
On March 5, 2015, Leigh Gallagher, assistant managing editor at Fortune Magazine, wrote about why employees enjoyed working at Marriott Hotelsand interviewed Marriott’s former executive vice president Kathleen Matthews, who was running in the Democratic primary for a congressional seat in Maryland.
Three months later, Gallagher contributed $500 to Matthews.
A spokesperson for Fortune Magazine said Gallagher doesn’t edit political news, so she isn’t in violation of Time-Inc.’s policy. The policy states, “Editorial staff members involved in covering a political campaign or major controversial issue … may not be publicly identified with a particular candidate or side of the issue being covered.”
Liisa May, assistant news editor at Newsday, donated $50 to Illinois congresswoman Tammy Duckworth on May 20.
Kim Como, communications manager at Newsday Media Group, said Newsday has a policy in place that prohibits journalists from making political contributions, but when asked if May would be reprimanded, Como said Newsday never comments on personnel matters.
On the local level, Gregory Smith, a veteran reporter for the Providence Journal, donated $50 to the Republican National Committee. Smith doesn’t cover national politics, but he does cover mayoral races that include Republican and Democratic candidates. Smith said he thinks he has the right to donate to campaigns.
“I didn’t give up my rights as a citizen when I became a journalist,” he said.
Smith declined to comment on the potential conflict of interests involved in his reporting.
Smith’s editor, Dave Butler, executive editor of the Providence Journal, said that Smith shouldn’t be donating to candidates he covers but that he didn’t think the donation represented a conflict of interest. Butler also declined to comment when asked about the fact that Smith covers elections with Democrats and Republicans.
However, the employee handbook of Providence Journal’s parent company GateHouse Media bars any campaign donations from news employees.
According to the handbook, “News Gathering Employees should not publicly demonstrate support or opposition to a particular political viewpoint or candidate. Campaign contributions, either cash or in-kind donations, should not be made.”
Janie Hulse, a senior editor at The Economist, donated $500 to Clinton.
Hulse nor anyone at The Economist responded to multiple requests for comment.
Some organizations, such as The New York Times, have such strict codes of ethics that even employees who don’t write about politics or anything related to them aren’t allowed to make contributions.
Jonah Kessel, a staff video journalist for The New York Times who covers Asia, contributed $100 to Bernie Sanders. While Kessel’s work has little to do with American politics at any level, all staff members, which is defined as all “reporters, editors, editorial writers, photographers, picture editors, art directors, artists, designers, graphics editors and researchers,” are barred from making political contributions. Eileen Murphy, senior vice president of communications for The Times, said Kessel’s editors talked to him.
“When we became aware of this donation, his editors spoke to him and reminded him of the policy that prohibits our journalists from making political donations,” she said.
Print news outlets weren’t the only ones with journalists who made political contributions.
Two technicians at CBS News — Hector Centeno and Christopher Dalrymple who is in charge of editing breaking news packages — donated to political campaigns. Centeno contributed $80 to Trump, while Dalrymple contributed $222 to Sanders.
Richard Huff, executive director of communications at CBS News, said CBS News editorial employees are not allowed to make political contributions, but he said as policy, they do not discuss individual personnel matters.
At CNN, producer Glenn Emery donated a total of $795 to Sanders. Emery is a part of the CNN International staff.
“The matter has been addressed with the employee,” a CNN spokesperson said. “Beyond that, we do not discuss specifics related to employees.”
Fred Brown, co-vice chair of the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics committee, said journalists shouldn’t be making donations.
Brown said donating to campaigns suggests that a reporter is biased.
“My default position is if you’re a reporter, don’t do it,” Brown said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for journalists, especially if they’re covering politics or government. It suggests a particular bias towards a point of view or a platform of a candidate.”
At the very least, Brown said reporters should disclose their campaign contributions in the articles they write. None of the aforementioned reporters did so.
While the reporters and editors tended to donate to more liberal candidates, such as the four who donated to Sanders, publishers mostly donated to Republicans and moderate Democrats. According to OntheIssues.org, the most liberal candidate that publishers donated to was Sen. Chuck Schumer D-N.Y. Schumer has been criticized by more liberal senators for not being liberal enough.
Expectedly, publishers donated much more on average than their reporters. Excluding Kaminsky, who donated by far the most of any reporter, an average publisher or senior executive’s donation was $7,380 while reporters and other news gatherers’ average donation was $289.60.
Most companies don’t explicitly ban political contributions by publishers. However, Brown, who also teaches communications ethics at the University of Denver, said it’s hypocritical of publishers to donate to candidates and then not allow their employees to do so. Brown said he didn’t think publishers should be making political contributions, even though it was less of an “ethical affront” than reporters doing so.
The publishers donating to political campaigns came from all parts of the industry — new media, legacy media and organizations that vary in size.
The most prolific contributor was Mortimer Zuckerman, the owner and publisher of The New York Daily News and editor-in-chief of U.S. News and World Report. Zuckerman donated to a variety of different candidates and PACs from the left and right, including $1,000 to republican Sen. John McCain R-Ariz., $200 to Schumer, $5,000 to Jeb Bush’s super PAC Right to Rise and $2,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. As of Oct. 15, Zuckerman has donated $21,200 during the 2016 election cycle.
Lucy Lyons, public relations director of U.S. News and World Report, said the publication’s journalists don’t donate.
“As one who is involved with U.S. News as well other businesses in different sectors Mr. Zuckerman makes his own decisions on political contributions,” Lyons said.
Greg Coleman, president of Buzzfeed, has donated $1,000 to Schumer and $10,000 to the Democratic National Committee’s Services Corp.
A spokesperson for Buzzfeed said Coleman works on the business side of the company.
“His role is completely separate from the work we do at Buzzfeed News and does not impact our editorial coverage,” the spokesperson said.
CEO and Publisher of The New York Post Jesse Angelo donated $2,700 to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
John Tompkins, CEO, founder and president of the News Media Corporation, which publishes 76 different small-town newspapers across the country, donated $1,000 to Trump.
Frank Blethen, the publisher of The Seattle Times, donated $1,000 to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR.
While CPI’s article may have sensationalized the amount that journalists with conflicts of interest were donating to campaigns, it’s clear that a number of journalists and publishers have violated journalistic ethics with their donations that constitute clear conflicts of interest.