Friday, 14 Dec 2018
Entertainment

With the campaign dreams of Bloomberg and Zucker, the revolving media door to politics is turning faster.

When Leonard Downie Jr., former editor of the Washington Post, said in an online chat in 2004 that he was no longer voting, some observers rolled their eyes.

Did not it take impartiality a little too far?

But Downie had his reasons. He decided to stop voting, he said, when he became "the supreme guardian" of what the newspaper published, a job that he held from 1991 to 2008.

"I wanted to keep a completely open mind about everything we covered," he said, "and not make a decision, even in my mind or in the privacy of the voting booth, on who should be president or mayor, for example.

We could use some of this scrupulous thinking at the moment, as the boundary between journalism and politics – never very clear to begin – becoming more and more blurred.

Consider:

● Billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg – who founded Bloomberg News, a global news agency – shows every chance of running for president. When he became president, he said in a radio interview, he would sell the news agency or place it in a blind trust.

But until then, his group of political journalists may have to ignore his campaign.

"Honestly, I do not want all the journalists I pay to write a bad story about me," Bloomberg joked.

Another possibility would be to "not cover the policy at all" and to use a copy of the wire service.

As BuzzFeed News' Steven Perlberg has reported, it has left a chill on the editorial column, a source describing the atmosphere as "semi-anxious, but not very brisk".

● CNN Executive Director Jeff Zucker recently said he is still considering the possibility of running for election in his future.

"I still have somewhere in my mind that I'm still very interested in politics," Zucker said in a podcast interview with CNN's David Axelrod. Axelrod, a former journalist, participated in Barack Obama's 2008 campaign and then held a position at the White House.

He did not say exactly what he had in mind, but some have speculated that his aspirations are to become the mayor of New York (a position previously held by Bloomberg).

And then, of course, there is the relationship between Fox News and the White House, two entities as closely related as Siamese twins.

The most recent example: President Trump is considering appointing a former Fox News host – Heather Nauert, the State Department's chief spokesperson – to become his next ambassador to the United Nations.

In just a few hours, former Trump employee Hope Hicks, now public relations manager at Fox (the parent company of the media), has released her first press release in this role. He approved a prison reform act backed by Trump.

Now add to the mix the unethical appearances of Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro at a rally in the Trump Missouri campaign last month. This evening was marked by a happy record between Hannity and former Fox leader Bill Shine, who became the Tsar of Trump.

True, there has always been a revolving door from politics to politics. Decades ago, William Safire, a former contributor to Richard Nixon, became a columnist for The New York Times.

And sometimes it turns in the other direction, with journalists invited to become political spokespersons.

But this new cycle is more extreme. The connection between Fox News and the White House is unlike anything we have ever seen before.

And the idea that mainstream media – with a huge influence on coverage decisions – think about political publications raises real questions.

Will the esteemed political reporters of CNN or Bloomberg, as well as their editors, find themselves on the edge of some issues or engage in self-censorship?

Given the aspirations of their bosses, is their journalism potentially compromised?

After all, there is a good reason for the information and the policy to maintain an appropriate distance from each other: the first is supposed to hold the last responsible.

Of course, these campaigns may never come to fruition – although Bloomberg certainly seems seriously concerned about a presidential bid for 2020.

Zucker's idea, on the other hand, is perhaps only a fleeting fantasy. In the same interview, native Floridian also said that he would like to own a certain NFL team: "If the Miami Dolphins follow, that's where I'll be."

Yet no employee wants to take the risk of upsetting the big boss.

And, at the same time, no journalist wants to punch him.

Would not it be nice to know that the "ultimate guardian" of their news agency – like Downie – would never think of putting them in this situation?

For more information by Margaret Sullivan, visit www.wapo.st/sullivan

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