TV reporter Calvert Collins with candidate Jim Esch
Leavenworth Street Blog
Reporter Calvert Collins, right, is no longer working at an Omaha TV station. MSNBC.com published on Thursday this photo from Facebook.com of her posing with Democratic congressional candidate Jim Esch. She was listed in federal records as giving $500 to Esch, and she urged her friends to vote for him.
Image: Bill Dedman
By Bill Dedman Investigative reporter
msnbc.com
updated 7/11/2007 12:28:36 PM ET 2007-07-11T16:28:36

The TV reporter in Omaha who posted a photo of herself on Facebook.com with a congressional candidate, urging her friends to vote for him, is no longer working at the station.

Also out: an editorial cartoonist who said he didn't "give a rat's ass" about his newspaper's policy on campaign contributions by journalists.

And one newspaper has dropped the syndicated column "The Ethicist" by New York Times writer Randy Cohen because of his donation to MoveOn.org, which he said he had thought of as "nonpartisan."

These were three of the 143 journalists named in an article Thursday on msnbc.com about journalists making campaign contributions.

The Facebook photo of Calvert Collins, a reporter for Fox station KPTM in Omaha, was published at the top of the article. She was listed in FEC records as having given $500 to the Democratic candidate, though she said her father actually made that donation in her name.

A blog, Omaha City Weekly Media Watch, reported Friday that KPTM had fired Collins, citing three unnamed station employees. KPTM's news director, Joe Radske, would not say Monday whether Collins still worked at the station or not, saying he could not discuss a personnel matter. But when msnbc.com called the KPTM newsroom and asked for Collins, the response was, "She no longer works here." Collins did not return messages left on her cell phone.

The Facebook photo had been public since October, as had FEC records showing that Collins gave $500 to Democratic congressional candidate Jim Esch. The photo was reposted then on a Nebraska political blog, and an anonymous comment on that blog had also divulged the donation.

Collins told msnbc.com last month that her father made the $500 donation in her name. She also said that her father had made a $2,000 donation in her name to Kay Granger, a Republican congresswoman from Texas in 2004, when Collins was a student in broadcast journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

As for the photo, Collins explained that building rapport with candidates was part of her job, and said she had removed it immediately when her boss heard about 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."

The cartoonist
The Lincoln, Neb., newspaper let go its editorial cartoonist, who had made a political donation. Paul Fell, a freelancer who drew three cartoons a week for the Journal Star, gave $450 to Maxine Moul, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House. "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," Fell had said.

In a column on Saturday, the paper's editor said Fell would no longer be drawing cartoons for the paper. A copy editor at the paper who gave $250 to the Democratic National Committee was reprimanded; she told editors of her donation after msnbc.com contacted her.

Fell's case is different, wrote editor Kathleen Rutledge, not only because he didn't disclose the donation, but because of his comments. "Fell’s comments make it clear he does not care about guarding this newspaper’s trust with readers," she said. "We don’t think he should treat our credibility with such disdain."

Fell sent an e-mail to msnbc.com with his reply stating that he had committed a breach of journalistic ethics, and that his "snarky" comments had come from anger: He was upset that the paper had not given him a pay raise. He was paid less than $100 per cartoon, he said.

The Ethicist

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.
The newspaper in Spokane, Wash., decided on Thursday to drop the ethics column of Randy Cohen, who writes "The Ethicist" for The New York Times. The paper had been scheduled to begin carrying the column this weekend.

"Had he been a Spokesman-Review staff member, he would have faced suspension, at least, for his misstep," editor Steven A. Smith explained. "So, we’re dropping the column. We’ll look elsewhere for a publishable ethicist."

Cohen had given $585 to MoveOn.org in 2004, when it was organizing get-out-the-vote efforts to defeat Bush. Cohen at first told msnbc.com that he thought of donating to MoveOn.org as no more out of bounds than giving to 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."

After msnbc.com checked the names of Times staff and contributors on this list with a spokesperson for the Times, Cohen tried to take back his earlier statement, and sent this addendum: "That said, Times policy does forbid my making such donations, and I will not do so in the future."

The union
An organizer for the Newspaper Guild sent e-mails to the donating journalists at the Los Angeles Times, offering "to aggressively support your right to contribute your time and/or money to causes important to you regardless of your political persuasion."

"As individuals, Guild members are all over the place on the ethics of journalists' involvement in public advocacy," wrote organizer Lesley Phillips, as reported on the Web site Mediabistro.com. (Phillips confirmed today that she sent the e-mails.) "But among the principles promoted in the Guild's Ethics Policy ... is: 'Those responsible for gathering and presenting the news retain their rights to private lives free of restriction, provided there is no actual conflict with their ability to be trusted sources of information.'"

Reviewing the policy
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram announced that it will review its ethics policy, possibly extending to all newsroom employees the ban on political donations. Two sports employees were on msnbc.com's list, and the paper said its own check of state records turned up other donations.

"The public records search that we did on our entire newsroom staff didn't turn up anything that caused me heartburn, but I think we'll revisit our policy now that this issue has been raised," said Executive Editor Jim Witt. "The political season is coming up, so it's probably a good time for us to review it. Most of the bigger papers in Texas totally prohibit contributions by any staff member regardless of whether they are in a position to influence anything or not.

"Our credibility is the most important thing to us, and if our current policy means that might be affected in an adverse way then we certainly want to address it. At the same time, I want our staff to enjoy the same rights and privileges that others in our society benefit from, and we want to be smart and fair about how we expect them to behave."

Update, July 11: According to Style Weekly in Richmond, political reporter Michael Hardy and copy editor Pam Mastropaolo were suspended for one month without pay for violating the paper's ethics guidelines by making campaign donations, which were disclosed by msnbc.com. The union is contesting the suspension.


© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

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