Giving money to political campaigns can be quicksand for journalists striving to be impartial or at least fair. But reporters, editors and others who work for the news media have given almost a half-million dollars to U.S. political candidates this election cycle, according to the D.C. political watchdog group, Center for Responsive Politics. CRP's study discovered donations from Seattle-based journalist Michael Kinsley and Tacoma News Tribune publisher Elizabeth (Betsy) Brenner, while investigative reporter Seymour Hersh says he has given to a Washington state Republican Senate candidate. But there are qualifiers to consider.
Pulitzer-winner Sy Hersh says he doesn't worry about that, however. Hersh, who gave a $1,000 donation to Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), said he thinks it's "great" that, according to CRP, he's one of 235 journalists or news organization employees who together donated more than $469,900 to federal political candidates, committees and parties in 2009-2010.
"A: It's nobody's business. B: It's not like I'm giving money to a presidential candidate or a party," he added, saying that he's also given money to a Washington state senatorial candidate, who is Republican. "I'm giving money to people I think are good people."
He didn't name the Washington candidate, but a check of state records shows The New Yorker magazine writer gave Rep. Larry Seaquist $1,000 in 2006, $500 in 2007, and $500 in 2008. Seaquist is a 26th District (Gig Harbor) Democrat. In his bio, Seaquist calls himself a former US Navy warship captain and Pentagon strategist. ("In addition to commanding four warships, including the battleship USS Iowa in operations all around the globe, Larry served in several senior positions in the Pentagon where he helped shape budget and national security strategy in the offices of the Secretary of Defense, the Chief of Naval Operations, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.")
Kinsley gave $500 to U. S. Senate candidate Mickey Kaus and that donation seems innocuous enough. Kaus is a Kinsley friend and fellow journalist (he wrote the political blog Klausfiles for Slate, the Microsoft-backed web site Kinsley launched as editor.) Klaus finished a distant third to Sen. Barbara Boxer in the California Demo primary this summer, and is now back writing Kausfiles for Newsweek.
CRP reports that six media professionals contributed more than five figures since January 2009. They include Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue, who "maxed out contribution limits last year, giving $30,400 to the DNC." Richard Mellon Scaife, owner and publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has contributed $14,400 to the RNC and Pennsylvania Republican candidates.
Paul Tharp, a business reporter for the New York Post, last year donated $750 to Rep. Michael McMahon (D-N.Y.), the Center's analysis of Federal Election Commission records show. Tharp said his two donations represent a "satisfaction with [McMahon's] public service" and his work with the arts. "Just because I am a reporter doesn't mean I give up my rights," Tharp said. "I have an interest in public service, but not politics. I cover business."
But as CRP points out, most media companies have specific guidelines for journalists to help them avoid even the perception of compromised journalistic integrity -- including making political donations. The Society of Professional Journalists' conduct code also recommends journalists "avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived" and "remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility."