updated 6/23 at the end of the post.
MSNBC published a recent investigative report detailing media members who contributed funds to political campaigns. The story lists the journalist, their respective media outlet, who they contributed to and to what party, and their reaction.
My fellow Journal Star-contributing cartoonist, Paul Fell, was one of the people included in the story. It’s understandably not a popular position to take in the media, but he was apparently willing to take the risk to stand up for it.
(D) The Lincoln, Neb., Journal Star, Paul Fell, editorial cartoonist, $450 in 2006 to Maxine Moul, Democratic candidate for the House.
“For your information, I did contribute the amounts listed to the Maxine Moul for Congress campaign in 2006,” Fell said in an e-mail. “I am a freelance cartoonist, who contracts with the Lincoln Journal Star to draw three editorial cartoons a week.
“They don’t pay me enough money to be able to dictate how I conduct myself in political campaigns. I generally do not donate to political candidates, but Maxine Moul is a longtime friend and former newspaper publisher where I got my start as a cartoonist back in 1976.
“Frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass what the Lincoln Journal Star or their parent organization, Lee Enterprises, policies are on allowing newsroom staff to give to candidates and parties. I do not believe they did disclose my donations. That’s their problem, not mine.”
Kyle Michaelis, who runs the New Nebraska Network blog, had some thoughts on this story and its Democrat-to-Republican ratio that I felt were definitely worth sharing.
We live in a world where the U.S. Supreme Court equates campaign contributions with the freedom of speech. Considering that journalists’ entire livelihoods are dependent on the liberal principles of free speech and a free press, it’s absurd that they are expected to give up their rights to partake in this delusion of disinterested neutrality perpetuated by the media.
Only TRUTH has the power to reveal bias for what it is. If anything, a journalist who hides her political leanings is only deceiving herself and lying to the public further. That may serve her career interests but only in an industry that has lost its soul and its purpose to formalism and false pretensions.
Journalists should get out of the games of image control and manipulating public perception. The story here is not that a few journalists are giving money to political campaigns, it’s that so many others will judge and cast aspersions because they’re more concerned about “how this looks” than they are about the actual world around them.
So there’s the issue of “Do I exercise my freedom?” versus “Do I empower public perceptions?” Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever had the money to contribute to a campaign, so it hasn’t really been an issue to me. But scouring the news for cartoon ideas, I do realize there are plenty of people who examine those contribution forms and make a story out of them. It’s hard enough as it is to get people to listen to your ideas; if they can latch onto something that will harm your credibility in their eyes, it’s best in my opinion to not give them that opportunity.
UPDATE!!! In today’s Journal Star, editor in chief Kathleen Rutledge explains Paul Fell will no longer draw cartoons for the paper because of this.
We pay him to express his own opinion on matters of public interest through cartoons that appear on the editorial pages. He is not an employee but a freelancer who is covered by our ethics code. He did not see fit to tell us he had made a political contribution, either at the time he made it or when he was contacted by MSNBC.
The biggest difference, though, is the cavalier attitude about journalistic ethics Fell exhibited. He said he doesn‚Äôt give ‚Äúa rat‚Äôs ass‚Äù about the policies of this paper. Read his complete comments to Dedman elsewhere on this page.
Fell‚Äôs comments make it clear he does not care about guarding this newspaper‚Äôs trust with readers. We don‚Äôt think he should treat our credibility with such disdain.
There’s a little bit of a backlash in the comments section. I understand where they’re coming from, and at first I kind of admired Fell’s response. Not in the way that he dismisses the Journal Star’s rules, but in the sense that it felt like he was saying “This shouldn’t be an issue, so go find some real news to report!” But the unfortunate reality is that this is an issue and the Journal Star sadly has to concern itself with issues like this – not because they’re mean or anti-expression, but because of the way in which organized groups like to wage war against facts.
People who want to keep their heads in the sand and ignore reality when it doesn’t suit them will look for anything to discredit you. And for their money to go from their pocket to the Journal Star to an employee (or freelancer in this case) and directly to a political campaign they disagree with is just too much.
Sure, it’s a restriction of free speech. But really, it’s not like this is the only case in which free speech is limited. When you take on certain jobs, you accept that there are certain expectations and agreements on behavior. I have to accept that, due to the way I’ve chosen to make my living, my contribution to the political process will be by trying to start discussions through cartoons.
And let this be a lesson – don’t tell a reporter from a national news organization that you don’t give a “rat’s ass” about your employer’s rules.