Monday, January 16, 2006

Tribune “Conflict of Interest” Policy Appears Aimed at College Republicans

The Marquette Tribune has a new policy on “Conflicts of Interest” dictating standards for Tribune staff, just finalized.

Some of the provisions are benign enough. For example, reporters are not to accept gifts from sources, nor even potential sources. Sports reporters are not to accept tickets to games (beyond the press credentials needed to cover the event).

But the most significant, and the most questionable, aspects of the policy concern what organizations Tribune staff can belong to, and kinds of stories they can report on. The documents reads as follows:
In fitting with the Tribune’s goal to be as ethical and professional as possible, the Tribune will henceforth require that its staff members be prohibited from the following activities:

1. Participating in a political campaign of any kind, including Marquette Student Government.
2. Public displays of political/partisan support or opposition, including signing petitions.
3. Membership in any organization that:
a. is or was included in your beat if you are or were a reporter
b. is or was included in a beat on your desk if you are an editor
c. is not necessarily aligned with a specific partisan organization but may collaborate with such organizations or take a lobbyist role (Gay/Straight Alliance at Marquette has established itself as strictly educational organization, so that is acceptable).
d. is partisan and/or political
These include organizations at all levels: student, local, regional, state, national and international.

4. Discussing personal political views in a public forum, including the Internet (anything that past, current, or potential sources have access to).
According to Andrew Johnson, Editor of the paper, these provisions flatly rule out any member of the College Republicans or College Democrats being on the staff. He says that “people know that these groups have a political agenda.”

But what about other political activist organizations?

Tribune staff are welcome to join such organizations, so long as they don’t actually report on the organization. According to Johnson reporters can be members of the leftist student organization JUSTICE, and the policy explicitly lists the Gay/Straight Alliance as an “OK” group to belong to.

Students for an Environmentally Active Campus is also an “OK” group.

The notion that these groups don’t have a political agenda, or are not known to have an agenda, is absurd. JUSTICE is to the left of the College Democrats. Consider the following blurb from their web site:
Currently JUSTICE is actively involved on many events on Campus. We are orgainising [sic] a social justice conference (teach-in) for November. During November we also go to the Ignatian Family Teach-In and SOA (School of the America’s [sic]) protest. We bring in many speakers throughout the year and work with many other organisations [sic] on campus to create programs that serve to educate and empower others about social justice issues.
The School of the Americas protest is a throwback to the Cold War (and the losing side in the Cold War, at that), and the “teach in” mentioned was hard left. JUSTICE has also been responsible for events such as an entirely one-sided forum to attack the “Warriors” nickname in December of 2004, and a speech from a priest who not only opposed the current Iraq War, but was an apologist for Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

The positions of the Gay/Straight Alliance and Students for an Environmentally Active Campus speak for themselves.

Suppose a Tribune staffer belongs to an activist group. They are not allowed to report on the group itself (the policy is clear), but are they allowed to report on issues relevant to the group?

For example, we asked Johnson whether a member of the Gay/Straight Alliance would be allowed to report on a debate on gay marriage, and he said there is “no problems concerning a gay marriage debate.”

We then asked him whether a member of Students for Life could cover a debate on abortion. He said this was “probably” not a problem. In other words, there might be a problem. A few minutes later, he called back to say that, contrary to what he first said, there would be no problem with a Students for Life member covering an abortion debate.

Of course, one has to wonder why, since he initially and wholeheartedly said the gay marriage issue could be covered by a member of the gay lobby group, he had initial reservations about a member of the anti-abortion group covering an abortion debate.

Apparently, he had to think about it a while before he concluded that both groups needed to be treated the same.

This issue arose during the 2004-2005 school year in connection with a Tribune reporter who was a member of the College Republicans. This reporter informed Jen Haberkorn, then Editor, of the affiliation, and Haberkorn saw no problem with it.

Yet when this reporter applied, in the Spring of 2005, for a position on the 2005-2006 staff, the reporter was subjected to a job interview that focused almost entirely on the College Republican affiliation. The interviewer, now the Managing Editor, is a liberal whose views appear to have heavily influenced the entire process.

The reporter was denied any of his or her top three choices of an assignment, and offered a less prestigious assignment, which, due to work conflicts, could not be accepted.

At the beginning of this past fall semester, one student who was a member of the College Republicans, and one who was a member of the College Democrats joined the Tribune staff. Both were told they would have to resign their membership in the partisan organizations.

The College Republican left that organization to remain on staff, while the College Democrat resigned from the College Democrats but then joined both JUSTICE and Student for an Environmentally Active Campus.

A Liberal Bias on the Tribune?

This issue shows how a subtle, but nonetheless real liberal bias operates to exclude conservatives from journalistic organizations.

A College Republican affiliation that last year’s Tribune editor saw as not being a problem was raised and used against a reporter wanting a job on the 2005-2006 staff.

While the College Democrats and College Republicans are excluded from the staff, members of other (mostly leftist) activist organizations are welcome. And they can even report on issues on which their organizations have taken a stand.

And the Tribune editor has to think for a few minutes before he can decide that members of Students For Life have the same rights members of the Gay/Straight Alliance.

As is usually the case with the Mainstream Media, nobody is scheming to exclude conservatives. But the liberals who dominate consider conservatives to be oddballs of some sort, whose affiliations are questionable, and whose presence can cause “problems.”

The practical effect is to make Mainstream Media organizations — and the Tribune is certainly our junior version of the Mainstream Media — alien territory for conservatives.


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