Whither Journalistic Ethics? Why Politico has fallen short in its coverage of spectrum issues


Author: JH Snider
Coverage Type: analysis
Location:
Allbritton (DC), 1100 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA, United States

[Commentary] On October 15, 2011, Jim VandeHei, executive editor and co-founder of Politico, spoke at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy about the business success and high journalistic ethical standards of Politico. During the Q&A, I asked him about the relationship between Politico‘s parent company, Allbritton Communications, and Politco‘s coverage of spectrum issues. Allbritton owns 7 local TV stations, including the ABC affiliate in Washington, DC. Spectrum licenses are arguably the company’s most valuable asset and it has a very aggressive spectrum lobbyists, Jerry Fritz, Vice President for Legal & Strategic Affairs, who has served on the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Board and testified on its behalf before Congress. He is also very active in spectrum lobbying on behalf of broadcasters on the Hill and at the FCC. I mentioned to VandeHei that Politico ran a front page puff piece on NAB President Gordon Smith (“Former senator Gordon Smith changes channel to TV’s woes“) and had published two high profile stories on incentive auctions (see “Lawmakers pan spectrum reform in debt bill,” “Tech cash floods debt panel,” and, since then, “Spectrum auction would be a winner“). However, in conflict with journalistic ethics, Politico did not mention this conflict of interest in the two articles on incentive auctions. It did mention in the Gordon Smith article that Allbritton Communications is an “affiliate” of Politico but then misstated and underplayed the relationship, saying Allbritton only “owns several television stations across the country” (it owns seven and they are the most valuable asset of Politico‘s parent company).

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