Monday, November 14, 2011

George Will, the Washington Post and Journalistic Ethics

No You Cannot Put the Last Term with the First Two

In 1980 Washington Post Columnist and television political news commentator George will was given the opportunity to opine on the performance of Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in a Presidential debate.  This was noteworthy because

Will helped Ronald Reagan prepare beforehand then criticized his opponent, Jimmy Carter, as a television commentator afterward.

without, of course, revealing his role in helping Mr. Reagan.

Yes that was 30 years ago and yes it was a breach of ethics and yes this is 30 years later.  But old habits die hard and given that Mr. Will was insensitive the ethics of journalism then it is more than reasonable to expect he is equally insensitive today.  And that, of course is exactly correct.

Columnist George Will's wife recently signed on as an adviser to Texas governor Rick Perry, a campaign spokesman confirmed today.

Will's wife, Mari Maseng -- a former communications director to both Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole -- started working for the campaign more than a week ago

As for Mr. Will and the Washington Post where he writes a regular column

Will, who has made no secret of his distaste for Perry rival Mitt Romney, plans to disclose the connection this Sunday on ABC and in future Washington Post columns, according to Post editor Fred Hiatt.

And apparently the Washington Post has no trouble whatsoever with the arrangement

“There was no relationship between his wife and any campaign the last time he wrote a column on the campaign, or any aspect of the campaign,” Hiatt said. “This developed after the last column that was two weeks ago. He has never written a column while there was a relationship between his wife and the campaign.”

So everything is a-ok with the Post.  No conflict issue here, no breach of ethics to speak of.  But then there is this

Will has however had multiple columns within the last two weeks. His most recent column for the Post was published online November 9 and in print November 10. A column about the GOP debates was published online November 4 (in print November 6), and a column that disparaged Romney as “the pretzel candidate” was published online October 28 (in print October 30).

But this was before Mr. Will’s wife took a position with the Perry campaign (wink, wink, nod, nod). No conflict of interest or breach of ethics here.  Of course, when you have pretty much abandoned good journalism, as the Washington Post has done, going to the next step and abandoning journalistic ethics is pretty easy. 

One can only imagine the chorus of condemnation had this happened with a moderate or liberal columnist who spouse went to work for Democrats.  But that’s because the press has a liberal bias, not a conservative one.  If the Washington Post had a conservative bias, why it would publish George Will even though his wife is working for a campaign where Mr. Will has many times disparaged that campaign’s main opponent.  

But the gods of political irony are always at work.  Mr. Will’s spouse

started working for the campaign more than a week ago and helped Perry prepare for his most recent . . . debate performance.  

Gosh, we were wondering how Mr. Perry did in that debate. But it must have been pretty a good outing for Mr. Perry since he had a heavy weight adviser like the wife of George Will on board.

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