Vital Signs

Journalists in Government: Who Owns the News?

You're not going to believe this, but last year C-SPAN broadcast a news media get-together that did not put everyone to sleep. As a rule, soul-searching sessions of media stars, or journalistic entities, as Wes Pruden of the Washington Times calls them, end in self-congratulatory hosannas to their integrity and their courage in calling it as they (collectively) see it.

The forum in Washington sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists was different. There was disagreement. Even spite and snarling. Syndicated columnist and former speechwriter for President Reagan Mona Charen was entirely ladylike, but on two occasions David Broder looked ready to pop her on the nose, if she were a man.

Broder, perhaps the leading entity at the Washington Post, had proposed the subject: "Journalists in Government." In recent years he has been sounding the alarm about journalists entering and leaving government service in a "revolving door." As he put it to the panel: "My original concern was the reputation of journalism in this country and our ability to maintain the public perception that we were separate from, and different fundamentally in our function from, the government officials that we cover."

This was not a new kink in journalism when Broder discovered it. A decade ago I was, like Broder, alarmed at the revolving door. It was a sub-theme in a book I wrote in...

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