Who'd the Press Corps Vote For?

Media criticism.
Nov. 9 2000 5:49 PM

Who'd the Press Corps Vote For?

(Continued from Page 1)

William Powers, National Journal

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Open up my secret ballot? Not a chance! Three reasons:

1) Kinsley's idea is cute, but it's based on a false premise, which is that Leonard Downie's views on journalistic ethics are influential and need to be knocked down. The Downie "philosophy"--that opinions are dangerous for journalists to have and the responsible thing is to not have any--is one of our trade's biggest jokes. Nobody inside or outside the Washington Post, where I worked for years, buys into this or even takes it seriously. It's a source of endless newsroom mockery and merriment.

2) My magazine has a different approach to this question. National Journal works hard to cover politics in a nonpartisan way, without favoring any particular candidate or ideology. Our reporters and columnists have all sorts of political leanings and biases--they run across the spectrum, near as I can tell. But we all come together every week to offer up reporting and analysis that, though undeniably influenced by those biases, also strives to transcend them. One way we do this is by keeping our personal voting choices just that, personal, and letting the work speak for itself. This isn't the only way to do political journalism, or necessarily the best way. But it's our little niche, and our readers seem to like it. With all this in mind, my editors asked me not to out my vote in your survey. Since they're paying me and you're not, I have a strong bias for them.

3) A confession: I like not knowing the precise political leanings of political journalists. A world in which every hack's work is labeled for its hidden ingredients, like a can of soup--"White House correspondent Jane Smith is a socially liberal, fiscally conservative married heterosexual who voted for Bill Clinton twice though she personally detests him and has bottomless admiration for Hillary, with the exception of health care and several other issues. As for school vouchers, Smith is quite torn ..."--that's a world I don't want to live in. Many of the journalists on your hit list are interesting in part because we don't know their leanings. The mystery of Maureen Dowd's "true" beliefs is one of the things that draws us back to her work again and again, and I'd hate to read a clinical rundown of her politics. Frankly, your staff's confessions told me a lot more than I needed or wanted to know. Political journalism is like sex in the movies: It's better when some things are left to the imagination. Slate's leanings were already clear to me. There was no need for you all to get naked.

Bob Davis, Wall Street Journal

Sorry. ... Couple of reasons:

1) It is a private vote; we don't even know what politicians do in the voting booth.

2) I cover these guys. There's already enough suspicion of reporters generally and the Wall Street Journal in particular among political types. (Republicans and Democrats make different assumptions about Wall Street Journal news reporters based on the Wall Street Journal editorial page. None of the assumptions are valid.)

3) I think opinion journalism can have a different standard. People expect an ideological slant from an opinion writer. Revealing it in more detail shouldn't harm the writer's credibility; rather, it would give readers a deeper understanding. There's more of a bond ... hmm, this is starting to sound like the relationship viewers might believe they have with Katie Couric.

Beware.