Ombudsman wrestles with consequences.
Herald Watch somehow missed the latest column by the Herald's ombudsman in his capacity as ombudsman.
Apparently the Herald found itself on the outside of an event for Hillary Clinton and had no way to get in except to buy its way in for $50. This is the subject much wrenching of hair and gnashing of teeth on the part of Schumacher-Matos, who consulted with an expert in journalistic ethics:
So, I called Robert M. Steele, a journalism professor and ethics expert at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg. ''I'm very uncomfortable with the thought of news organizations buying their way into campaign events,'' he said. ``Disclosing it doesn't make it go away. It's still a campaign contribution.''Again the ombudsman seems noncommittal. Why so wishy washy, doesn't this man have an opinion of his own?
He is right, and The Miami Herald's own written guidelines prohibit staffers from working or contributing to political campaigns. But guidelines are just that: guidelines. There comes a time for editorial judgment, and that is what was called for in this unusual situation.
The issue now is what to do going forward. Bill Richardson will come soon for a ''fundraiser.'' The reporters and editors I talked to are not totally clear on what the policy will be, which indicates a need for a written directive. For Gyllenhaal, it's simple. ''We'll be going to anything that looks like a rally,'' he said, and The Miami Herald will pay if it has to. He later qualified that by saying the paper would take into account the importance of the candidate and the event, and if the paper appeared to be paying inordinately for any one candidate.
I think this approach best serves the reader. We will all now monitor how the paper lives up to its word.
Something else in the column was curious:
Benn [the reporter that paid his way in] was asked if he was comfortable with the assignment. ''I would have had a problem if I had been asked to sneak in, representing myself as a member of the catering staff,'' he said.Why should a reporter be so uncomfortable with sneaking into a political event? I thought these were supposed to be truth seekers. Journalists around the world risk their lives daily to get stories out. What could have possibly happened to him had he been caught doing his job? I guess the thought of a uniformed security guard escorting him out was too stressful.
Another thing I don't get is why the Ombudsman is so concerned about the money paid to attend and therefore report on the event. Isn't the fact that the paper actually ENDORSES candidates a bigger conflict of interest?
It strikes me that these folks make up the rules as they go along.