Globe to address columnist Sununu’s outside interests

Last week the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America published its latest post on the many conflicts of Boston Globe columnist John E. Sununu, a former Republican senator and the son of former New Hampshire governor John Sununu.

Now the Globe’s editorial-page editor, Ellen Clegg, says she’s dealing with Sununu in several ways:

  • By posting in the near future biographies of Sununu and other freelance columnists that disclose their outside interests.
  • By reaching an understanding with Sununu that he will not write about cable and Internet access.
  • By requiring a specific disclosure within his column whenever he writes about the presidential campaign. (Sununu is a prominent supporter of Ohio Gov. John Kasich.)

“It’s safe to say that few freelance columnists make their living solely from writing for newspapers these days, so most have other jobs or consultancies,” Clegg told me by email. “We want to be more transparent with our readers about the nature of columnists’ work and affiliations.”

Sununu’s outside interests, which I have written about previously, was the subject of an Aug. 17 analysis by Eric Hananoki of Media Matters. Hananoki observed that Sununu’s column of that same date criticized President Obama’s environmental policies as well as his regulatory decisions regarding cable and the Internet without mentioning his ties to businesses that oppose administration policies.

In particular, Hanonoki wrote, Sununu was paid more than $750,000 by the industry-funded lobbying organization Broadband for America and by Time Warner Cable, on whose board he sits.

Sununu’s ties to the energy industry stem from his status as a policy adviser to the Washington lobbying firm Akin Gump.

The online disclosures Clegg envisions for freelance columnists seem like a reasonable solution in most cases, although, as she notes, there are times when the disclosure should be included in the column — or when the conflict of interest is so blatant that the columnist should simply choose another topic.

The online disclosures are also of no help to those who only read the print edition. Clegg told Joe Strupp of Media Matters that she’d “take a look at” what to do about print and added that “we do require that [disclosure] when we think it’s warranted.”

What follows is the full text of Clegg’s email to Media Nation.

In the interest of more transparency, we’re posting bios for our regular freelance op-ed columnists online and linking those bios to their bylines. John Sununu has told me he will avoid writing about issues pertaining to cable and internet access because of his seat on the Time Warner Cable board. He has also assured me that he will disclose his support of GOP presidential candidate John Kasich in the text of any columns he writes about presidential politics (he is chair of his campaign in New Hampshire.)

It’s safe to say that few freelance columnists make their living solely from writing for newspapers these days, so most have other jobs or consultancies. We want to be more transparent with our readers about the nature of columnists’ work and affiliations. When appropriate, we’ll include relevant details in the text of the print edition of the column, as well as the link for our digital readers.

Also published at WGBHNews.org.

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Media Matters whacks Sununu over Keystone column

John Sununu
John Sununu

The liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America has resurrected an old charge: that former Republican senator John Sununu Jr. is using his Boston Globe column to advance the interests of a lobbying firm he advises.

In this case, writes Eric Hananoki, the Washington firm of Akin Gump, with which Sununu has a relationship, has received at least $90,000 from a company that would be involved in building the Keystone pipeline — and on Thursday the Globe posted a full-throated defense of Keystone by Sununu, complete with crocodile tears for Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu. The Akin Gump connection is not disclosed.

When I looked into Sununu’s relationship with Akin Gump in 2012, then-editorial page editor Peter Canellos assured me that the former senator’s ties to the lobbying group were tangential enough that they did not rise to the level of a conflict. And Media Matters’ own report at the time made it clear that the situation was ambiguous. (On Akin Gump’s website Sununu is listed as an “Adjunct Senior Policy Advisor.”) Still, on a certain level what’s good for Akin Gump is good for John Sununu.

But as I wrote at the time, the larger question is why the Globe would hand over precious op-ed space to a partisan hack like Sununu. It’s still a good question. I hope it’s something Canellos’ interim successor, Ellen Clegg, is giving some thought to.