By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Gitlin responds

I don’t like it when other people try to summarize my position, so I’ll try to be careful in summarizing his: It’s OK for an opinion journalist to comment on matters involving a politician he supports even when readers are not informed of that fact. He calls my position “incoherent.” And he throws in a “metadiscussion” for good measure.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’d call this incoherent:

Anyway, I’m not writing a column on Obama, I’m writing a column on Tim Russert. I’ve been writing about Russert for a decade or so. I was writing about him — critically, in the main — when I’d never heard of Barack Obama.

Yes. Me too. Since then, though, you and I have heard of Obama, and you’ve publicly endorsed him. Thus you’ve forfeited the right to evaluate Russert’s coverage of the presidential campaign without disclosing that fact. And if you do disclose it, fewer people will take you seriously. This is basic journalism ethics. Do you not get it?

Now read the whole thing.

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  1. Neil

    Dan do I have this straight–when a journalist decides to support some candidate/issue, the protocol is disclosure, and the price is that fewer people will then take the journalist seriously when he covers that candidate/issue.You’ve of course disclosed the fact that you’re against casinos in MA. Do you think you’ve paid the price of having fewer people take you seriously on that issue as a result?Presumably because once you’ve crossed the line to advocacy, your journalistic ethos of (striving at least for) objectivity is compromised. Abandoned, in fact. You’ve become just another partisan.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Neil: Issue advocacy is obviously different from candidate advocacy. You can’t do opinion journalism unless you’re an issues advocate. This isn’t a small or arcane point. For instance, let’s say I wrote (as I have, more or less):Casinos would be bad news for Massachusetts. Not only do studies suggest that they would bring in far less money than proponents claim, but they have also been linked to increases in crime, traffic, and even increases in the suicide and divorce rates.Now, tell me — do I need to disclose that I oppose casinos? I do believe that I just did. I was running a disclosure for a while last fall because I had accepted an invitation to speak to an anti-casino group (for no pay). But the whole point of writing an opinion column is to disclose your position on issues.But let’s say I wrote the following:Joe Blow would be the best Republican candidate to oppose Gov. Deval Patrick in 2010 because of Blow’s longstanding opposition to casino gambling.If I have ever publicly said that I support Blow, or, God forbid, if I’ve ever given him money, then yes, damn right, I need to disclose every time.

  3. Anonymous

    DK – getting some national media love with a Politico blog linking to this post I see. Congrats.

  4. Anonymous

    I agree with you and not Gitlin.

  5. Neil

    My point wasn’t so much about the disclosure per se. Rather, I don’t see the distinction between issue and candidate advocacy as far as “And if you do disclose it, fewer people will take you seriously” is concerned. Some comments to Gitlin’s piece repeat the recently pervasive cynical assumption that objectivity is only ever a pretense, therefore the solution is “transparency” in the sense of full disclosure, all the time. Striving for objectivity as a professional ideal is merely naive, leaving you with these reductio ad absurdum accusations of lack of disclosure. We could all walk around with signs disclosing our various biases, so that our opinions could be dismissed accordingly, at a glance. Reminds me of the lawsuit that produced the warning label on coffee cups: Caution, contents may be hot! Because somebody sued for lack of disclosing potentially hot contents. It seems to me the best solution to the lack of infinite disclosure is to address the argument. If you disagree with something Gitlin actually said, have at it.

  6. Cynthia

    Dan – I write a weekly opinion column. Like a cup of coffee, I have a disclaimer at the bottom of my piece each week, warning that I am a Republican. People are free to take me seriously or not.I wrote about Romney, but stated I was IN a meeting or event; I write about the Democrats, but my disclaimer warns all of my bias; I write regularly about issues like mortgage lending, casinos, or insurance, which can be seen as non-partisan, but often aren’t.Does wearing the scarlet ‘R’ absolve me of shoddy ethics?

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Cynthia: No one can accuse you of being unethical if you disclose your associations.

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