The Los Angeles Times reports on some of the US’ most prominent political journalists, who happen to be wedded to spouses who work for one of the presidential candidates. What is the responsibility of newspapers and in the media in cases of potential conflict of interest?
Some cases include Los Angeles Times political reporter Ronald Brownstein, whose boss banned him from covering the presidential race because he is married to the chief spokeswoman for Sen. John McCain, a candidate for the Republican nomination.
There’s also Matthew Cooper, the former Time magazine correspondent, who is married to a chief ad strategist in Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign for the Democratic nomination. And so on.
But what is the appropriate procedure in these potential conflicts of interest? Should the reporter be temporarily banned from political topics, at the discretion of the newspaper? Or should the situation merely be disclosed to readers?
Some journalists insist that both they and their spouses are aware of the limits of conflict of interest. "I am confident that her new job will not affect my judgments, pro and con, about McCain and his initiatives," says Brownstein.
Yet the potential risk of conflict should be enough to avoid the risk in the first place. "You have the right to marry anyone you want, but you don't have the right to cover any beat you want," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
This seems to have been the final stance adopted by the LA Times. Though he was confident Brownstein could “set aside his personal situation and write fairly…. But the appearance of a conflict was too stark to consider any sort of role for him in covering the presidential race," says Managing Editor Douglas Frantz.
Yet the Times was in no way legally bound to make such a decision, nor was it bound to disclose the information. Should there be a standardized, legal, and formal procedure for these cases?
Few people seem to think so right now. This may be the case because major news outlets have so far had the integrity – or the fear of being entangled in ethical scandal – to act accordingly when reporters could potentially find themselves in a conflict of interest.
Source: LA Times through Poynter.org