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On the June 24 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, host and Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz said: "MSNBC.com had a lengthy investigation this week ... they found a lot of journalists contributing to political candidates and political parties, mostly Democrats." Throughout the segment, the on-screen text read: "Journalists' donations: Many give to Democrats." While Kurtz did not define what he meant by "a lot" and the on-screen text did not define "many," the assertions are contradicted by the MSNBC report itself. As the report notes, the actual number of journalists identified in the study as political donors -- 143* total -- is a "tiny fraction of the roughly 100,000 staffers in newsrooms across the nation."
Kurtz did not acknowledge the tiny percentage even after one of his guests, Huffington Post media editor Rachel Sklar, pointed it out, saying that the number who gave was "like one percent." (The actual percentage appears to be less than two-tenths of one percent.)
Further, in characterizing the investigation as finding that "a lot of journalists" contributed to political candidates and parties, Kurtz failed to note that the study included journalists whose job has no bearing on political coverage. For instance, the study showed that Henry Riemer gave "$1,700 to Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean in 2003-2004 and $1,000 in 2004 to Democracy for America, which gave to Democrats." Riemer was a sports statistician for The Boston Globe when he made these donations. The MSNBC report itself noted that "[m]any of the donating journalists cover topics far from politics: food, fashion, sports." From the report:
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.
From the June 24 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
KURTZ: One more issue here, MSNBC.com had a lengthy investigation this week -- you can put up a graphic -- they found a lot of journalists contributing to political candidates and political parties, mostly Democrats. We see there some of the names, Joe Scarborough, former CNN reporter, Fox News producer. Is there another part to that [graphic]? There was also correspondents for CBS, ABC, and MTV. Rachel Sklar, should journalists make political donations, period? Doesn't that make them look partisan?
SKLAR: Well, what I find interesting about this is that the assumption immediately that making the donation is what makes you partisan, or is that the journalists who don't make donations have no biases whatsoever. I actually am more interested in what is not disclosed. In this case, if donations are disclosed to news organizations and the news organizations themselves don't have a rule against making those contributions, if everything is transparent and people are held accountable, then I don't think it's a problem. I think that that's a --
KURTZ: Let me get Michael Medved in, because we're short on time. Should they make these donations? And 125 of the 144 people tracked by MSNBC gave money to Democrats.
MEDVED: Yeah, I think it's a huge problem and it shows the disproportionate sympathy for liberal causes and candidates in mainstream media.
SKLAR: Oh, I don't think it shows that at all.
MEDVED: The reason it is a problem is because it's so passionate -- you have to be so passionate about a campaign to actually give money.
SKLAR: But like one percent did.
MEDVED: Look, I give opinions everyday, all the time -- that's what I do -- and yet I would be very careful not to contribute to a campaign because once you're a financial backer of a candidate, how can you then go on your show or on your -- in your magazine and say I'm not in the tank for the candidate or a party for which I contribute.
KURTZ: All right, got to wrap it here. You get the last word. Michael Medved, Rachel Sklar, thanks for an interesting discussion this morning.
* A subsequent correction to the MSNBC study changed the total number of those surveyed from 144 to 143 because "[o]ne of the names was included in error in this list of newspeople who contributed to political campaigns." From the MSNBC correction:
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.