Monday, November 28, 2016

How Columbia Journalism Review gave government an excuse to crack down on reporters

Ari Fleischer makes the case that Trump is justified in treating the White House press corps like an unruly child:
The press hasn’t been kind to Donald Trump—and that isn’t its job. That job is to cover the news in a fair manner. But as the Columbia Journalism Review reported in October, campaign-finance disclosures show that those who work in journalism gave $396,000 to the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Mr. Trump, with more than 96% going to Mrs. Clinton.
I hated the CJR report when it came out and still do. First, $396,000 is barely a drop in the campaign finance bucket. On its own, it sounds like a big number. Relative to the actual number of journalists, it's microscopic. So CJR's headline on the original piece — "Journalists shower Hillary Clinton with campaign cash" — is the kind of clickbaity sensationalism CJR might well criticize in other circumstances.

But let's take a closer look at the report itself.

NEW YORKER TELEVISION CRITIC EMILY NUSSBAUM, a Pulitzer Prize winner, spent the Republican National Convention pen-pricking presidential nominee Donald Trump as a misogynist shyster running an “ugly and xenophobic campaign.”
What Nussbaum didn’t disclose: she contributed $250 to Democrat Hillary Clinton in April.
Oh no! A television critic donated to the campaign!

Nussbaum should've disclosed her donation when writing about Trump (and did in a later column for the New Yorker) but holding TV critics to the conflict-of-interest ethical standards that apply to political reporters is silly and pointless.

Other examples from the CJR report:

• Orange County Register restaurant critic Brad Johnson in California this year made dozens of small-dollar contributions to Clinton’s campaign totaling more than $750. 
• Fox Sports spokesman Erik Arneson, responding to questions about three current and former employees who gave Clinton money, said the network “supports employees’ personal involvement in the political process as long as it is compliant with applicable laws.” 
• At ESPN, baseball news editor Claire Smith has made numerous small-dollar contributions to Clinton’s campaign that add up to almost $600. Smith, who in a tweet last week described Trump as a “would-be dictator & sexual predator,” did not return requests for comment, and ESPN spokesman Ben Cafardo declined to comment. 
• Lauren Goode, editor of tech and culture news outlet The Verge, explained that her $500 contribution in February to the Clinton campaign wasn’t about supporting Clinton’s candidacy—Goode just wanted, for reporting purposes, to get inside a fundraising event in Silicon Valley.

So. Lots of people whose jobs have nothing remotely to do with covering federal government — or even local government — are swept into this CJR database. That's ... obtuse.

What doesn't seem to be included in the database: People who actually covered the White House, or the Trump or Clinton campaigns, for a living.

That doesn't stop Fleischer from marshaling CJR's report as evidence of a biased White House press corps, though. CJR's standards for the database didn't reflect good sense or sensible distinctions, but it's made a handy cudgel for those who reflexively like to bash the press.

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