News organizations are wary about getting too close to the people they cover. Personal or professional entanglements with a source can compromise reporters’ objectivity and foster perceptions of favoritism among readers or viewers.
So Politico’s latest house ads raised a few eyebrows around Washington this week. Among a new batch of promotions for the website and newspaper one featured Josh Holmes, chief of staff to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
With tinkly piano music playing in the background, Holmes talked up his love of the paper: “There is just a lot of different aspects of Politico that allow you to do your job and stay tuned and make sure you’re covering as much ground as you can.” The ad’s tag: “I’m Josh Holmes and I’m a Politico.”
Well, not any longer. Holmes apparently had second thoughts about jumping into bed with Politico and asked that the ad be removed from the publication’s website on Thursday. Politico said it honored his request.
Holmes wasn’t paid for his endorsement, but his appearance raised a few thorny questions: Should Politico be using a potentially important source like Holmes to sell itself? Wouldn’t doing so compromise both parties, making Holmes appear to be a shill for Politico and Politico appear to be too chummy with Holmes and his boss? Might the relationship ultimately color public perceptions of Politico’s news coverage of McConnell?
Kim Kingsley, Politico’s chief operating officer, didn’t think so. “We had both Democrats and Republicans talking about Politico and its centrality to Washington coverage. They were asked by our business department, not the newsroom, and their perspective was a great way of introducing the publication to newcomers.”
Politico’s promotional series features a variety of other endorsers, including Eli Attie, a screenwriter (“West Wing,” “House”) who worked in the Clinton White House; Leila Janah, a San Francisco “social entrepreneur;” business owner and small-town mayor Mark Tullis; Evan Smith, editor in chief of the Texas Tribune; and Angela Rye, a lawyer and political consultant. Those ads are still up and running.
Roll Call, a Politico competitor, reported Thursday that senate ethics rules prohibit senators and their staff from making endorsements. The publication reports Holmes said he didn’t realize that the video would be used as an ad. He received a written request for a video interview from Politico’s director of marketing, who said the video would be “a profile of you first — and how you use Politico second.”
Correction: The text has been changed to reflect Kim Kingsley’s current job title, which was incorrectly listed on Politico’s website.