TV reporter Calvert Collins with candidate Jim Esch
Leavenworth Street Blog
In addition to giving $500 to Democratic congressional candidate Jim Esch, Omaha TV reporter Calvert Collins posted a photo of the two of them on her Facebook page, saying, "Vote for him Tuesday, Nov. 7!" She says her father wrote the check, and she was just building rapport with candidates.
Investigative reporter Bill Dedman of msnbc.com
By Bill Dedman Investigative reporter
msnbc.com
updated 6/25/2007 5:07:26 PM ET 2007-06-25T21:07:26

A correction has been added to this article

A CNN reporter gave $500 to John Kerry's campaign the same month he was embedded with the U.S. Army in Iraq. An assistant managing editor at Forbes magazine not only sent $2,000 to Republicans, but also volunteers as a director of an ExxonMobil-funded group that questions global warming. A junior editor at Dow Jones Newswires gave $1,036 to the liberal group MoveOn.org and keeps a blog listing "people I don't like," starting with George Bush, Pat Robertson, the Christian Coalition, the NRA and corporate America ("these are the people who are really in charge").

Whether you sample your news feed from ABC or CBS (or, yes, even NBC and MSNBC), whether you prefer Fox News Channel or National Public Radio, The Wall Street Journal or The New Yorker, some of the journalists feeding you are also feeding cash to politicians, parties or political action committees.

Msnbc.com identified 143 journalists who made political contributions from 2004 through the start of the 2008 campaign, according to the public records of the Federal Election Commission. Most of the newsroom checkbooks leaned to the left: 125 journalists gave to Democrats and liberal causes. Only 16 gave to Republicans. Two gave to both parties.

The donors include CNN's Guy Raz, now covering the Pentagon for NPR, who gave to Kerry the same month he was embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq; New Yorker war correspondent George Packer; a producer for Bill O'Reilly at Fox; MSNBC TV host Joe Scarborough; political writers at Vanity Fair; the editor of The Wall Street Journal's weekend section; local TV anchors in Washington, Minneapolis, Memphis and Wichita; the ethics columnist at The New York Times; and even MTV's former presidential campaign correspondent.

Related: See the full list .

‘If someone had murdered Hitler ...’
There's a longstanding tradition that journalists don't cheer in the press box. They have opinions, like anyone else, but they are expected to keep those opinions out of their work. Because appearing to be fair is part of being fair, most mainstream news organizations discourage marching for causes, displaying political bumper stickers or giving cash to candidates.

Related: How the analysis was conducted .

Traditionally, many news organizations have applied the rules to only political reporters and editors. The ethic was summed up by Abe Rosenthal, the former New York Times editor, who is reported to have said, "I don't care if you sleep with elephants as long as you don't cover the circus."

But with polls showing the public losing faith in the ability of journalists to give the news straight up, some major newspapers and TV networks are clamping down. They now prohibit all political activity — aside from voting — no matter whether the journalist covers baseball or proofreads the obituaries. The Times in 2003 banned all donations, with editors scouring the FEC records regularly to watch for in-house donors. In 2005, The Chicago Tribune made its policy absolute. CBS did the same last fall. And The Atlantic Monthly, where a senior editor gave $500 to the Democratic Party in 2004, says it is considering banning all donations. After msnbc.com contacted Salon.com about donations by a reporter and a former executive editor, this week Salon banned donations for all its staff.

What changed? First came the conservative outcry labeling the mainstream media as carrying a liberal bias. The growth of talk radio and cable slugfests gave voice to that claim. The Iraq war fueled distrust of the press from both sides. Finally, it became easier for the blogging public to look up the donors.

As the policy at the Times puts it: "Given the ease of Internet access to public records of campaign contributors, any political giving by a Times staff member would carry a great risk of feeding a false impression that the paper is taking sides."

  1. Other political news of note
    1. Animated Boehner: 'There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline!'

      House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.

    2. Budget deficits shrinking but set to grow after 2015
    3. Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
    4. Obama faces Syria standstill
    5. Fluke files to run in California

But news organizations don't agree on where to draw the ethical line.

Giving to candidates is allowed at Fox, Forbes, Time, The New Yorker, Reuters — and at Bloomberg News, whose editor in chief, Matthew Winkler, set the tone by giving to Al Gore in 2000. Bloomberg has nine campaign donors on the list; they're allowed to donate unless they cover politics directly.

Donations and other political activity are strictly forbidden at The Washington Post, ABC, CBS, CNN and NPR.

Politicking is discouraged, but there is some wiggle room, at Dow Jones, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report. (Compare policies here.)

NBC, MSNBC and msnbc.com say they don't discourage or encourage campaign contributions, but they require employees to report any potential conflicts of interest in advance and receive permission of the senior editor. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of NBC Universal and Microsoft; its employees are required to adhere to NBC News policies regarding political contributions.)

Many of the donating journalists cover topics far from politics: food, fashion, sports. Some touch on politics from time to time: Even a film critic has to review Gore's documentary on global warming. And some donors wield quiet influence behind the scenes, such as the wire editors at newspapers in Honolulu and Riverside, Calif., who decide which state, national and international news to publish.

The pattern of donations, with nearly nine out of 10 giving to Democratic candidates and causes, appears to confirm a leftward tilt in newsrooms — at least among the donors, who are a tiny fraction of the roughly 100,000 staffers in newsrooms across the nation.

The donors said they try to be fair in reporting and editing the news. One of the recurring themes in the responses is that it's better for journalists to be transparent about their beliefs, and that editors who insist on manufacturing an appearance of impartiality are being deceptive to a public that already knows journalists aren't without biases.

"Our writers are citizens, and they're free to do what they want to do," said New Yorker editor David Remnick, who has 10 political donors at his magazine. "If what they write is fair, and they respond to editing and counter-arguments with an open mind, that to me is the way we work."

The openness didn't extend, however, to telling the public about the donations. Apparently none of the journalists disclosed the donations to readers, viewers or listeners. Few told their bosses, either.

Several of the donating journalists said they had no regrets, whatever the ethical concerns.

"Probably there should be a rule against it," said New Yorker writer Mark Singer, who wrote the magazine's profile of Howard Dean during the 2004 campaign, then gave $250 to America Coming Together and its get-out-the-vote campaign to defeat President Bush. "But there's a rule against murder. If someone had murdered Hitler — a journalist interviewing him had murdered him — the world would be a better place. As a citizen, I can only feel good about participating in a get-out-the-vote effort to get rid of George Bush, who has been the most destructive president in my lifetime. I certainly don't regret it."

Conservative-leaning journalists tended to greater generosity. Ann Stewart Banker, a producer for Bill O'Reilly at Fox News Channel, gave $5,000 to Republicans. Financial columnist Liz Peek at The New York Sun gave $90,000 to the Grand Old Party.

A few journalists let their enthusiasm extend beyond the checkbook. A Fox TV reporter in Omaha, Calvert Collins, posted a photo on Facebook.com with her cozying up to a Democratic candidate for Congress. She urged her friends, "Vote for him Tuesday, Nov. 7!" She also gave him $500. She said she was just trying to build rapport with the candidates. (And what builds rapport more effectively than $500 and a strapless gown?)

'You call that a campaign contribution?'
Sometimes a donation isn't a donation, at least in the eye of the donor.

"I don't make campaign contributions," said Jean A. Briggs, who gave a total of $2,000 to the Republican Party and Republican candidates, most recently this March. "I'm the assistant managing editor of Forbes magazine."

When asked about the Republican National Committee donations, she replied, "You call that a campaign contribution? It's not putting money into anyone's campaign."

(For the record: The RNC gave $25 million to the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004.)

A spokeswoman for Forbes said the magazine allows contributions.

Briggs also is listed as a board member of the Property and Environment Research Center, which advocates "market solutions to environmental problems." PERC has received funding from ExxonMobil, and tries to get the industry's views into textbooks and the media. The organization's Web site says, "She exposes fellow New York journalists to PERC ideas and also brings a journalistic perspective to PERC's board. As a board member, she seeks to help spread the word about PERC's thorough research and fresh ideas."

Americans don't trust the news or newspeople as much as they used to. The crisis of faith is traced by the surveys of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. More than seven in 10 (72 percent) say news organizations tend to favor one side, the highest level of skepticism in the poll's 20-year history. Despite the popularity of Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann, two-thirds of those polled say they prefer to get news from sources without a particular point of view.

‘My readers know my views'
George Packer is The New Yorker's man in Iraq.

George Packer
The New Yorker's George Packer, a Democratic donor: "My readers know my views."

The war correspondent for the magazine since 2003 and author of the acclaimed 2005 book "The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq," Packer gave $750 to the Democratic National Committee in August 2004, and then $250 in 2005 to Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett, an anti-war Democrat who campaigned unsuccessfully for a seat in Congress from Ohio.

In addition to his reported pieces, Packer also writes commentary for the magazine, such as his June 11 piece ruing Bush's "shallow, unreflective character."

"My readers know my views on politics and politicians because I make no secret of them in my comments for The New Yorker and elsewhere," Packer said. "If giving money to a politician prejudiced my ability to think and write honestly, I wouldn't do it. Fortunately, it doesn't."

His colleague Judith Thurman wrote the New Yorker's sympathetic profile of Teresa Heinz Kerry, published on Sept. 27, 2004. Ten days later, the Democratic National Committee recorded Thurman's donation of $1,000. She did not return phone calls.

Their editor, Remnick, said that the magazine's writers don't do straight reporting. "Their opinions are out there," Remnick said. "There's nothing hidden." So why not disclose campaign donations to readers? "Should every newspaper reporter divulge who they vote for?"

Besides, there's the magazine's famously rigorous editing. The last bulwark against bias slipping into The New Yorker is the copy department, whose chief editor, Ann Goldstein, gave $500 in October to MoveOn.org, which campaigns for Democrats and against President Bush. "That's just me as a private citizen," she said. As for whether donations are allowed, Goldstein said she hadn't considered it. "I've never thought of myself as working for a news organization."

Embedded in Iraq, giving to Kerry
Guy Raz does work for a news organization.

Guy Raz
NPR
Guy Raz of CNN and NPR, covering the war, giving to John Kerry, all in the same month.

As the Jerusalem correspondent for CNN, he was embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq in June 2004, when he gave $500 to John Kerry.

He didn't supply his occupation or employer to the Kerry campaign, so his donation is listed in federal records with only his name and London address. Now he covers the Pentagon for NPR. Both CNN and NPR forbid political activity.

"I covered international news and European Union stories. I did not cover U.S. news or politics," Raz said in an e-mail to msnbc.com. When asked how one could define U.S. news so it excludes the U.S. war in Iraq, Raz didn't reply.

There are more who gave
There appear to be far more than 144 donating journalists, but msnbc.com limited its search to:

  • Federal candidates, PACs and parties in the records of the Federal Election Commission, not the separate state campaign records.
  • The period January 2004 through the first quarter of this year.
  • Donors in news jobs, not corporate executives or publishers, who are allowed by nearly every news organization to donate.

Campaigns are spotty about reporting the occupation and employer of donors. The law requires only that campaigns make a good-faith effort to request the information from donors.

Our first search of the records used job titles: "editor," "anchor" and so on. Because often no job title is reported, we also searched using the names of news companies. Smaller companies were not checked; for example, we checked only the company names of the 200 largest newspapers, out of more than 1,400 dailies in the nation.

Small donations may not be in the records. Many candidates report only donations of $200 or more. Reporting of smaller donations is optional but is becoming more common with electronic filing of campaign reports to the FEC.

Then, with a list of about 300 apparent journalists, we tried to contact them all. The list published here includes only those who either confirmed that they made the donation or did not respond. Many journalists who changed jobs since the donations were not contacted and are not included here.

The final list represents a tiny percentage of the working journalists in the nation. Daily newspapers alone employ about 60,000 full-time journalists. Approximately 30,000 work in television news jobs and 10,000 in radio news.

Covering the war, opposing the war
Margot Patterson not only covered the war and gave money to stop it — she also signed a petition against it.

Patterson has covered the Iraq war and anti-war movements for the National Catholic Reporter, an independent weekly newspaper in Kansas City.

She gave to anti-war Democrats: $2,100 to Sen. Claire McCaskill, $1,000 to Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, $250 to Howard Dean and $800 to the Democratic Party.

And she signed a petition and paid to have it published as "KC Metro Citizens Oppose War On Iraq!"

Patterson said the danger isn't the journalist who reveals a bias by making a campaign contribution, but journalists who quietly hold to their biases.

Margot Patterson
National Catholic Reporter
Reporter Margot Patterson covered the war, gave money to anti-war Democrats and paid to publish a petition against the war.

"I feel my responsibility as a journalist is to be fair to the people and issues involved and to be as accurate as possible," she said. "When I see my country embark on a course of action that I think disastrous to its future and fatal to its citizens, I think it my duty to do my utmost to stop it."

She didn't disclose her political activities to her readers, or her editor, Tom Roberts. He said he wasn't sure about campaign contributions, but "a reporter signing a petition crosses the line to activism."

'The Ethicist'
At this point, we need a journalism ethicist. How about Orville Schell? He favorably reviewed Eric Alterman's book "What Liberal Media?: The Truth About Bias and the News." And this Feb. 9, while he was still dean of the journalism school at the University of California, Berkeley, Schell gave $1,000 to Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Randy Cohen
Randy Cohen, who writes "The Ethicist" for The New York Times, says donations to MoveOn.org should be allowed if it's OK to give to the Boy Scouts or the Roman Catholic Church.
Or we could ask Randy Cohen, who writes the syndicated column "The Ethicist" for The New York Times. The former comedy writer gave $585 to MoveOn.org in 2004 when it was organizing get-out-the-vote efforts to defeat Bush. Cohen said he understands the Times policy and won't make donations again, but he had thought of MoveOn.org as no more out of bounds than the Boy Scouts.

"We admire those colleagues who participate in their communities — help out at the local school, work with Little League, donate to charity," Cohen said in an e-mail. "But no such activity is or can be non-ideological. Few papers would object to a journalist donating to the Boy Scouts or joining the Catholic Church. But the former has an official policy of discriminating against gay children; the latter has views on reproductive rights far more restrictive than those of most Americans. Should reporters be forbidden to support those groups? I’d say not." (Update: The newspaper in Spokane, Wash., The Spokesman-Review, decided on Thursday to drop Cohen's column, which had been scheduled to begin running in the paper on Saturday, because of his donation. The editor explains that if Cohen had been employed by the paper when he made the donation to MoveOn.org, he would have been suspended, at least.)

Tom Rosenstiel hasn't given anyone a dime. The former media critic for The Los Angeles Times and director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, he co-wrote the classic book "The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect."

Journalists have sometimes gone too far, Rosenstiel said, in withdrawing from civic life. "Is it a conflict of interest for the food editor to be the president of the PTA? Probably not," he said. "You don't want to make your journalists be zoo animals."

Planet Journalism
But giving money to a candidate or party, he said, goes a big step beyond voting. "If you give money to a candidate, you are then rooting for that candidate. You've made an investment in that candidate. It can make it more difficult for someone to tell the news without fear or favor.

"The second reason," Rosenstiel said, "it would create — even if you thought you could make that intellectual leap and not let your personal allegiance interfere with your professionalism — it creates an appearance of a conflict of interest. For journalists, that's a real conflict.

"Giving money, you're not doing the profession of journalism any good. All of the ethics of journalism are about trust. They don't come from Planet Journalism. They come from the street."

Rosenstiel said that even opinion journalists, such as columnists and arts critics, should not make donations, because there's a difference between having opinions and being captive of a particular party or faction. Major newspapers, he said, have mostly gotten the message. You won't find any journalists in the recent FEC records from The Washington Post, where executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. is so famously politically agnostic that he doesn't vote, though he doesn't prohibit his reporters from doing so. At least, you'll find no Post journalists other than Stephen Hunter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, who gave to the Republican Party in 2004. (The film critic at The New York Times, Manohla Dargis, gave to Democrats when she was at the L.A. Times. She finds Michael Moore's new film "persuasive.")

Is it legal for companies to restrict donations? After all, the U.S. Supreme Court has classified campaign contributions as a form of speech. In the best-known case, in a state court, the News Tribune newspaper in Tacoma, Wash., reassigned to the night copy desk its education reporter, socialist and gay-rights activist Sandy Nelson, after she helped launch a ballot initiative for a nondiscrimination ordinance. In its 1997 decision (Nelson v. McClatchy Newspapers), the Washington state Supreme Court said the newspaper can enforce conflict-of-interest codes to preserve "the appearance of objectivity." The reporter's right to free speech, the court wrote, was trumped by the newspaper's right to freedom of the press, to control its own news operations.

The San Francisco Chronicle transferred the editor who handled letters to the editor, William Pates, after his donations to Kerry were disclosed by a Web site in 2004. The Newspaper Guild objected, and after a time on the sports copy desk, he's back in charge of deciding which letters get published.

Networks of influence
Fox News Channel is alone among the four major TV networks in placing no restrictions on campaign contributions. But there were surprises in the records for those who think everyone at Fox is a Republican. Researcher Codie Brooks, of Brit Hume's "Special Report," gave $2,600 last year to the Senate campaign of Harold Ford Jr., the Memphis Democrat. She said she raised much of the money from friends. "A lot of Fox employees have contributed to Democratic candidates," she said. "I know I'm not the only one."

Laura Evans
WTTG
Laura Evans, anchor at the Fox station in Washington, gave to a Democratic candidate and blogs about the war.

At the Fox station in Washington, WTTG, anchor Laura Evans gave $500 in August to Democrat John Sarbanes, who was elected to the House from suburban Maryland. She initially told msnbc.com that the donation was made by her husband, lobbyist Mike Manatos.

But the records show that her husband had already given the legal limit to Sarbanes. When asked about those records in a follow-up interview, she said, "I hadn't talked to my husband. He reminded me that he had actually talked to me about this, because he had maxed out, could we write a check in my name. I said, sure. Now I remember having this conversation. It's within Fox policy, it was OK for me to do it."

Evans has also taken stands in line with Rep. Sarbanes' votes opposing President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq. On her blog on WTTG's Web site, she commented recently on the congressional debate: "Everyone's trying to save face here ... all the while people are dying. Didn't voters in November speak loud and clear, saying they're tired of the fighting and want an end in sight?"

At ABC News, "Primetime" correspondent Mary Fulginiti gave $500 this February to Bill Richardson, a Democratic presidential candidate. The legal correspondent had been a white-collar defense attorney until she joined ABC in November. She said the donation "is not a reflection of my political views," although she had given regularly to Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. "Look, I've made a mistake here," she said. "I'm a legal analyst — this is all new to me. I have been politically active in the past. This is when I was just starting out at ABC. I was still thinking as a lawyer."

At NBC News, which says donations require approval of the senior editor, “Dateline” correspondent Victoria Corderi gave $250 in 2005 to Democratic Senate candidate Josh Rales in Maryland. "In a word, yikes!" she said when asked about the donation. Her husband wrote the check, she explained, when a friend threw a fundraising party. "I'd not even thought to consider that since my name is on our checks that I would appear in public records as a contributor."

MSNBC TV host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican member of Congress from Florida, gave to a Republican congressional candidate from Oregon last year. In addition to anchoring an evening newscast, "Scarborough Country," and a morning talk show on MSNBC, he provides political commentary for MSNBC, CNBC and NBC's "Today Show."

At CBS News, "Sunday Morning" correspondent Serena Altschul gave $5,000 to the Democratic Party in 2004. And producer Edward Forgotson gave $1,000 to Patrick Kennedy last June, two weeks after the Rhode Island congressman pleaded guilty to driving under the influence. Until September, the CBS policy discouraged, but allowed, contributions; now it forbids them, a spokeswoman said.

An ABC anchor in Wichita, Susan Peters, gave $600 to America Coming Together. At the CBS station in Memphis, anchor Markova Reed gave to a Democratic House candidate. And in Boston, host and former anchor Liz Walker gave $4,000 to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats; the station said this was allowed, because at the time she was hosting a public affairs show. Now that she's back doing news segments, she can't donate.

At the Fox TV station in Omaha, reporter Calvert Collins learned that there's no such thing as a private, personal donation. And there's no such thing as a personal page on Facebook, either.

‘Vote for him Tuesday, Nov. 7!’
Collins, a 23-year-old reporter for Fox station KPTM in Omaha, said that her father actually wrote the check for $500 to Jim Esch, the Democrat who lost a House race last fall.

"I had told my dad that I was friends with this man. He said, 'Would you like me to make a donation?' I said, 'That's up to you, but don't do it in my name.'"

The reporter also posted a photo of herself with Esch on her Facebook page, with the note, "Vote for him Tuesday, Nov. 7!" After the photo was posted on a Nebraska political blog, she apologized but explained that "it is part of my job to build rapport with candidates and incumbents during election season."

"I foolishly wrote, in jest, to vote for him, and forgot completely that that was on there," Collins told msnbc.com. "When my boss heard about it, I immediately removed it."

"In a way, I'm glad this happened to me at age 23, and not 33," Collins said, "and I will learn from it." (Update: TV reporter who supported candidate is out .)

If you don't trust the mainstream media, perhaps you prefer to get your news from, say, MTV News.

Gideon Yago
MTV's Gideon Yago covered presidential campaigns and donated to them, too. "I don't understand," he said.
The concept of staying off the field of battle was a completely new one to MTV's "Choose or Lose" presidential campaign correspondent in 2000 and 2004. Gideon Yago, whose first appearance on MTV was on the game show "Idiot Savants," gave $200 to Wesley Clark's 2004 presidential campaign, $500 to the Democratic Party, and $500 to America Coming Together. MTV advertised his reports as unbiased.

"I don't understand. Things that I do as a private citizen?" Yago asked. " I mean, what the f---, man?"

Yago said he always tried to be fair. "We're not a traditional news network in the sense of NBC or Fox or CBS," he said.

He said his reporting in Iraq for MTV prompted him to give $250 to VoteVets, which is running ads criticizing President Bush's handling of Iraq. "After my second trip to Iraq in 2004, I felt the conventional news media was not doing a good enough job of conveying the horrors and the failures of the war in Iraq," Yago said. "I was never told by my boss or anyone that we couldn't give to a campaign."

‘People I don’t like’
Although donations are banned for journalists at Dow Jones — if they would be considered newsworthy, the policy says — several staffers at The Wall Street Journal made donations. Senior special writer Henny Sender said she was just back from Asia and didn't know the Journal's rules when she gave $300 to Kerry in 2004. The editor of the Weekend Journal, Eben Shapiro, gave $1,000 to Democratic Victory 2004. He said the donation was actually the purchase of art at a fundraiser, and when he was reminded of the paper's policy, he got a refund. Credit markets editor Billy Mallard at Dow Jones Newswires gave $200 to MoveOn.org in October and said he "thought MoveOn.org was OK because it wasn't the Republican Party or Democratic Party." Once msnbc.com called, Mallard said, he realized that it was a partisan group and asked for a refund.

The tally of donors doesn't include a group that gave money to defeat President Bush by paying to hear the Boss. In 2004, Bruce Springsteen and other musicians raised money for MoveOn.org and America Coming Together at a series of 34 concerts billed as "Vote for Change." The ticket buyers included an msnbc.com Web producer and more than 20 other journalists. Although all of the purchase price went to the effort to defeat Bush that fall, the intent may have been entirely musical, so those donors are not on our list unless they made other contributions.

One of the Springsteen fans appears to be a blogging editor at Dow Jones, Samuel J. Favate Jr., who gave $1,036 to America Coming Together in 2004. He didn't return phone calls. Favate rewrites press releases for Dow Jones Newswires in New Jersey, which may explain his views that corporate America is "really in charge." On his personal blog, Favate rails against the Iraq war, for gun control and for a tax audit of Christian psychologist James Dobson. After msnbc.com left him a message asking about the blog and his donation, Favate's name disappeared from the blog. A previous blog listed Favate's "people I don't like," starting with George Bush. ("You can be sure that I will be adding to this list from time to time, so try not to piss me off.") That blog went dark the day after msnbc.com called.

Dow Jones spokesman Howard Hoffman said it doesn't monitor employee blogs, "and we're not overly concerned about what Sam did or didn't do on his blog exercising his free-speech rights."

On the job at Newsday, which forbids donations, section designer and artist Rita Hall tried to slip an anti-Bush line into a personal column she wrote. Hall gave $210 to Hillary Clinton in March 2006. "Dig deeper," she said. "I gave $2,000 to Kerry. I'm not allowed to do this. I know it's against the rules. I'll probably get fired. They're looking for any excuse to cut staff here."

Hall said she wrote a column about her son, who won the "Top Chef" competition on the Bravo network. "In passing I mentioned that I was interested in finding people who hated Bush as much as I did. They took that out. My view is: You're still going to have an opinion whether you admit to it or not. If you don't admit to it, you're being dishonest. Let's be transparent."

Hall didn't disclose her donations to her editors — or the readers of Newsday.

The new bumper sticker
Several of the journalists reasoned that their activism is acceptable precisely because the public would not know — unless they go to the trouble to search the FEC records.

"A lot of us want to be politically active. But marching in a war protest isn't an option, being a recognizable person, so we give with our checkbook," said Alix Kendall, the morning anchor for Fox station KMSP in Minneapolis, who gave $250 in September to the Midwest Values PAC, which passed the money on to Democratic candidates. "I don't think that working for a news organization I give up my rights. I interview plenty of people that I don't agree with, but I also ask questions to get the other side."

Senior editors, who every day are accused of a bias one way or another, may be more sensitive to appearances. Several editors said they are thinking of tightening their policies, lest they keep handing ammunition to critics.

At the Muskegon Chronicle, a daily newspaper in Michigan, reporter Terry Judd gave $1,900 to the Democratic National Committee in six contributions from 2004 through 2006; and $2,000 to Kerry in March 2004. "You caught me," Judd said. "I guess I was just doing it on the side."

His editors said they're not sure there is an "on the side."

"This information makes us want to think farther and more deeply about what we encourage and discourage in reporters," said the metropolitan editor, John Stephenson. "We have always historically said, you guys can have any political beliefs you want. Just don't wear your hearts on your sleeve or your bumper.

"Truthfully, this sort of thing may be the new bumper."

Correction: One of the names was included in error in the list of newspeople who contributed to political campaigns ("The list: Journalists who wrote political checks") on June 21. Joe Cline, a graphic artist at The San Diego Union-Tribune, is in the advertising department, not in news. His name has been removed. Because Cline had given to Republicans, the adjusted tally is 143 journalists: 125 giving to Democrats and liberal causes, 16 to Republicans, and two to both parties.

Make your own listYou don't have to be Bob Woodward to find political donors on the Internet.

You can search the official records at the Federal Election Commission site or use private sites such as this one, which sometimes allow more flexible searching for occupations and employers. Try all forms of an employer name, such as "The Oregonian" and "Oregonian." Try occupation words such as "reporter" or "producer."

But beware that not all the people listed under a news company's name are in the news departments.

And campaigns sometimes report incorrect information. Candidates are required to try to report occupations and employers. They're not required to get it right.

MSNBC.com found several journalists who were listed for contributions they didn't make.

  • The chief military correspondent for The New York Times, Michael R. Gordon, didn't really give $2,000 to Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. The money came from Michael L. Gordon, an investment adviser. The campaign apparently just searched the Web for the donor's name and reported the first occupation it found. (An amended report has been filed, but the false information may live forever on the Internet.)
  • Reporter Richard Roesler of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., did not give to a candidate in Pennsylvania.
  • New York Times business writer Geraldine Fabrikant said that half of a contribution to Rudy Giuliani by her husband, intended for him and his business partner, was wrongly attributed to her.
  • Fraser Smith, the news director at WYPR radio in Baltimore, didn't give to the Democratic Party.
  • Longtime TV political reporter Mark Davis in Hartford said he did not support any congressional candidates.
  • And political reporter Virginia Nuckols at The Virginian-Pilot reimbursed the Republican Party of Virginia for a train trip — she didn't donate.

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments