Page 3 of 5   <       >

Undercover Journalism

· At Fox News, a Bill O'Reilly producer donated $5,000 to Volunteer PAC, which gives to Republican candidates, while a Brit Hume researcher gave $2,600 to Tennessee Democrat Harold Ford. The network does not discourage personal contributions.

· Washington Post film critic Stephen Hunter gave $250 to the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2004. He says in a telephone interview with The Post that he got a phone solicitation and "I suspect, knowing my pathologies, a little bit of drinking was involved. I can't remember dealing with it as an ethical issue." A top editor later learned of the donation and warned him that the paper bans the practice. "I have not given a penny to anyone ever since," Hunter says.

Also on the list were staffers for ABC, the Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, Newsday, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle and San Diego Union-Tribune, as well as the Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Salon, Time and U.S. News & World Report.

When the Chicago Tribune revealed that entertainment reporter Maureen Ryan had given $3,000 to Kerry and the Democratic Party -- and wrote a column denigrating President Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina -- Ryan apologized to readers.

Some of these folks remain in denial. When you become a journalist, you give up the right to back political candidates or parties with your checkbook. And in this age of federal disclosures, it always comes out.

The news outlets that don't ban donations seem to regard them as a matter of personal preference, like joining the PTA. But they seriously underestimate the public distrust of journalists, which is only fueled by such practices. Those who work for opinion magazines or are employed as commentators have a stronger case that their views are no secret. But there is still an important distinction between rhetorically supporting a candidate and helping bankroll one.

The scorecard -- 125 of 144 donations to Democrats -- provides fresh ammunition to those who say the press has a liberal tilt. It's hard to argue you don't favor one party when you've just coughed up cash for that party.

In other news . . .

Well, it seems to be happening: Rupert Murdoch is on the verge of gaining control of the Wall Street Journal. Once the family agreed to meet with him, and with a $5-billion offer on the table, I figured it was only a matter of time. You can always hammer out language to paper over any disagreements.

For its part, the Journal says this morning that there was "a near breakdown in discussions over a proposal to safeguard the editorial independence of The Wall Street Journal, according to people familiar with the matter."

The New York Times leads off a piece by recounting how Trent Lott changed his stance on a measure that would have forced Murdoch to sell some of his television stations--after getting a $250,000 book contract from Murdoch's HarperCollins. Nut graph:

"His vast media holdings give him a gamut of tools -- not just campaign contributions, but also jobs for former government officials and media exposure that promotes allies while attacking adversaries, sometimes viciously -- all of which he has used to further his financial interests and establish his legitimacy in the United States, interviews and government records show."

<          3           >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company