Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 20, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

POLITICS IN THE NEWSROOM....On Sunday Howard Kurtz wrote an article for the Washington Post with this lead:

More than 100 journalists and executives at major media companies, from NBC's top executive to a Fox News anchor to reporters or editors for the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, CBS and ABC, have made political contributions in recent years.

On Monday, Slate's Jack Shafer says Kurtz blew it: the real story is that most of the contributions were to Democrats.

Today, Atrios says they both blew it: Kurtz's list isn't exhaustive, and the examples he chooses for his story are thus cherry picked from an already cherry picked list. It doesn't mean a thing, and both Kurtz and Shafer are hacks.

Can I play too? As near as I can tell, the real story is that there's no story at all. Ponder this paragraph from Kurtz's story if you will:

For this story, the Post reviewed federal election records for the last five years in which donors identified themselves as working for one of 12 prominent news organizations. While no one who directly covers campaigns was listed in the records, some donors report on political issues occasionally or indirectly, or have in the past.

Since Kurtz identified 100 contributors over five years, that means there were about 20 contributors per year from 12 large news organizations. That's about one or two per year from organizations that employ hundreds of people. In other words, nada.

And even then, the worst he could come up with were reporters who cover politics "occasionally or indirectly." Presumably Kurtz picked the best examples he could find from his list of 100, and they included such gems as sportswriters, food writers, arts writers, consumer reporters, travel writers, opinion writers, a couple of people who donated to their brothers, and spouses who mistakenly contributed under the wrong name. Once you work through all that, there's really not much left.

And how does it all add up? Of the contributions Kurtz specifically mentions in his article, $43,050 went to Republicans and $24,083 went to Democrats.

It may well be true that a majority of news reporters are Democrats or Democratic leaners, but the actual evidence here is that media employees contribute virtually nothing to political campaigns, and the remaining wisp of a secondary story is that among the few who do, donations to Republicans are nearly twice the donations to Democrats. That's a pretty meager hook for a front page story.

Shafer got it wrong: we didn't need rewrite for this article. We needed a sharper spike.

POSTSCRIPT: It's worth adding that the headline for Kurtz's article may be one of the worst ever: "Journalists Not Loath to Donate To Politicians." Aside from just being a plain lousy headline, the evidence of the story is that journalists hardly ever contribute at all. But you can hardly blame the headline writer for not figuring that out from Kurtz's copy.

Kevin Drum 10:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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