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Friday, March 18, 2011

David Broder on the Revolving Door

Our chapter on mass media discusses the "revolving door" between journalism and politics, and previous items here have supplied fresh examples. The latest is Washington Post congressional correspondent Shailagh Murray, who becomes Vice President Biden’s new communications director. At the Post, Ed O'Keefe lists a dozen other reporters who have joined the administration.

The most respected journalist of recent times was the Post's David Broder, who passed away recently. In the text we briefly quote his 1989 column on the "revolving door," a longer excerpt from which is below:

A month or so ago, in remarks at the National Press Club, I expressed concern about the increasing coziness between politicians and journalists in Washington. Particularly worrisome is the growing tendency for journalists to dabble in politics, either as closet strategists or as temporary government appointees, and for government officials, whether press agents or policy-makers, to go through the revolving door and emerge as prominent commentators and news executives.

The danger is not that these in-and-outers diminish the quality of journalism. Many of these folks are gifted writers and speakers, who bring special insights from their previous jobs. The danger is the blurring of the line between politicians and journalists. The 1st Amendment gave journalists a special immunity from government regulation and placed us outside the system of checks and balances, not because of our charm, our virtue or our brilliance, but because the Founding Fathers believed that a free press, even if fallible, would be a healthy check on government.

"If we are to defend that privilege," I said in the speech, "we better make it clear we are not part of government, and not part of a Washington Insiders' clique where politicians, publicists and journalists are easily interchangeable parts. Once we lose our distinctive identity, it will not be long before we lose our freedom."