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News Operations Prove as Tight-Lipped as Their Targets
Each of these news organizations is in the business of calling people for interviews every day. The implicit, and sometimes explicit, appeal: If you talk to us, we will treat you fairly. Your side will be represented. It is better to cooperate with a story than to slam the door and hide behind nonresponsive statements.
Except, apparently, when the journalists themselves are involved.
Dina Temple-Raston, who covers the FBI for National Public Radio, did a story last week on objections by civil libertarians to the bureau's tactics in conducting surveillance without court orders. The first person she quoted was an official at the American Civil Liberties Union.
Temple-Raston is also the co-author of a new book titled "In Defense of Our America." The other author is Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU. The book "illustrates the dangerous erosion of the Bill of Rights in the age of terror," as the organization's Web site puts it.
Does being partners with such a prominent civil libertarian raise questions about an FBI beat reporter?
"When you see my name on the book, it's absolutely fair to wonder what the depth of participation was," Temple-Raston says. When she was hired by NPR six months ago while finishing the book, "we talked about whether there could be a conflict of interest."
Temple-Raston says she signed on to the project after Romero got the contract and that they had mainly an "e-mail relationship." She says NPR editors came up with "common sense" guidelines that do not allow her to quote Romero or profile the ACLU, but that still allow her to use the organization as a source.
"I'm attuned to the problem that there could be a perception issue," she says. "The ACLU and other civil liberties groups are going to be part of my beat. It's something I think about, it's something I'm aware of, just like I worry about being too sympathetic to the FBI. I'm trying to be really, really balanced."
Amy Polumbo's Facebook photos were embarrassing enough. Miss New Jersey unveiled them on the "Today" show Thursday after someone sent them to pageant officials in an effort to discredit her. While fully clothed, Polumbo was seen with male friends nuzzling and groping her breasts, and in other less-than-ladylike poses.
But editors at the New York Daily News should be equally red-faced. The tabloid touted what it said were the secret Facebook shots -- only to have Polumbo say on "Today" that morning that those pictures weren't of her, just some of her partying friends. The News expressed regret in a correction Friday, saying the paper had been assured about the photos by "a source close to Miss Polumbo." Not that close, apparently.
The recent MSNBC.com report on political contributions by 143 journalists has had repercussions at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
According to a local publication, Style Weekly, the Virginia paper has suspended statehouse reporter Michael Hardy and copy editor Pam Mastropaolo for 30 days for donating to Democrats. The paper acknowledged only that disciplinary action has been taken.
In the summer of 1972, Washington Post reporter Lou Cannon wrote a largely favorable story -- "Nixon Running Scared Despite Lead" -- that drew the attention of none other than Richard Nixon.
In a detailed memo to his top aide, H.R. Haldeman -- part of a batch of material just released by the National Archives -- the president said the piece was not that bad, but warned: "Even when our most intelligent people are meeting with people like Cannon, they must constantly keep in mind that they are meeting with a political enemy and that everything they say will, therefore, be used against us . . . .
"While we know the Washington Post is totally against us it is just as well to have a piece that has some favorable points in it as well as completely negative ones. Therefore, I have no objections to the fact that Cannon was given interviews by the Campaign Committee. On the other hand, it was a stupid mistake -- which must never be repeated -- to allow Cannon to have the run of the White House staff, the campaign staff and the National Committee staff in getting his story together."