Journalists shouldn't have to give up political rights when they cover the news
I BELIEVE reporters should be able to voice their political opinions and financially support their candidates. This is in variance to the view expressed in the July 15 Star-Bulletin column by Bob Jones
, my occasional drinking companion.
Newspapers traditionally endorse candidates in their editorials and focus on a variety of issues domestic, national and international. Reporters should be able to exercise these same rights and opt to stay silent if they wish.
|Editor's note: Times have changed. The ethics code at the Star-Bulletin does not allow newsroom employees to donate to political campaigns.|
I base my opinion on 40 years in the news business, 28 years with the Star-Bulletin, from 1960 to 1988. I also worked for the Plymouth Pilot-News in Indiana, the Pampa Daily News in Texas, the Associated Press in Ohio, Reuters in London, the Chicago Tribune and China Daily in Beijing.
In the early 1960s, I marched with a small group of Vietnam War protesters in Waikiki. This upset some of my Star-Bulletin colleagues. A. A. (Bud) Smyser, the editor, said to me, "I see you got a lot of sunshine yesterday." I interpreted this to mean I was entitled to my opinion, although it opposed the Star-Bulletin's view supporting the war.
AS I MARCHED, I could feel the hate from bystanders. This was in sharp contrast to a march several years later when people cheered as a large group of war protesters walked from Ala Moana park toward City Hall. The marchers made a detour to the parking lot of the building that housed the Bulletin and the Honolulu Advertiser. To my chagrin, the demonstrators demanded a spokesman from the Bulletin and said they objected to the use in headlines of the term "Viet Cong" referring to Vietnamese Communists and their sympathizers. Ed Edwards, the city editor, quite properly pointed to me at the end of the line and said that I was responsible for the headlines. That was true, but whatever my political convictions they would not let me interfere with my journalistic responsibilities. However, I was embarrassed and pulled out of the protest and made my way to Columbia Inn for a drink. My executive editor, Hobe Duncan, drove me to Ala Moana so I could pick up my car. There was no chastisement for my political activity.
On some papers I suppose it is permissible to give a campaign contribution or a check to a cause if it is the newspaper's endorsed candidate or favorite issue. About 20 years ago, a secretary to an editor of a Milwaukee newspaper was disciplined for taking part in an anti-abortion demonstration, but her boss was permitted to be a member of the board of directors of Milwaukee Planned Parenthood, an organization that backs abortion. That was an abuse of power.
I AM OLD ENOUGH to remember when Jack Burns and Tom Gill campaigned separately with short speeches in the Star-Bulletin city room as they vied for the Democratic nomination for governor.
After Tom completed his talk, I was pleased to walk up and give him a small campaign check in front of God and editors (there is a difference, you know). I was not criticized or fired. At least in the Star-Bulletin in those days, political rights extended to reporters. May that right be restored one day so that journalists have the same obligations as other citizens to participate in a democratic society.
Charles E. Frankel was a Star-Bulletin writer and editor for 28 years.