Friday, August 26, 2005

Capital-Times Sponsors Anti-Bush Speaker

We noticed on Sykes writes that George Galloway, a left-wing former Labour Party member in the U.K. and strident opponent of the Iraq War, will be speaking in Madison, and will be introduced by Jane Fonda.

Buried at the bottom of the story is a note that the event “is sponsored locally by the Havens Center, the Progressive and The Capital Times.”

That’s right, the Madison newspaper itself is sponsoring a strongly partisan speaker whose strident opposition to the Iraq War got him expelled from the Labour Party.

Managing Editor Phil Haslanger, when contacted by the Marquette Warrior Blog, explained this by noting that the Capital-Times is “more activist than most papers.”

When asked whether the sponsorship doesn’t compromise norms of objectivity — giving the paper, for example an incentive to report favorably on an event that it had sponsored — he responded ”those are good questions.”

Haslanger pointed out that for many years the Milwaukee Journal sponsored a foreign policy discussion series. This was an apparent reference to forums held at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, that claimed to be (and to a tolerable extent were) non-partisan.

We are not aware of any American newspaper having ever sponsored a speech by a conservative political activist — although we must admit that we can’t prove it never happened, and would like to learn about any such case.

It’s one thing for a paper to take an editorial position, but another to give tangible support to a particular activist individual or organization. Even if the paper gave no monetary support to the event (and the people who could speak to that issue were unavailable when we tried to reach them over the past half-hour), giving such an event publicity beyond what neutral news judgment would dictate is “support.”

And the incentive to report favorably on an event that a newspaper has itself sponsored certainly constitutes a conflict of interest.

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