Last night, congresspeople in Washington got cozy with the people who cover them. The Congressional Corrrespondents’ Dinner is, basically, the warm-up act for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, in which all the reporters — and the movie stars who’ve sort of taken it over — rub elbows with one another…
Should journalists and the people they cover be quite so chummy?
A kerfuffle has broken out locally between long-time columnist Nick Coleman, and MinnPost, which is holding a fundraising “roast,” featuring local media stars and politicians. Coleman writes that it hurts journalistic credibility:
I contacted MinnPost to request a press pass in order to attend MinnRoast 2011 as a working journalist. I was rejected, even though I made it clear that I wanted to attend in order to report on it, not to snort and cavort until the chablis came out my nose. My reason for requesting a pass was simple: Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is scheduled to speak at the event and any appearance by the governor may — and should — be covered as a (possible) news story. Other politicians also are scheduled to show up and crack jokes at MinnRoast, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman (my brother) and a token Republican or two, along with a gaggle of local media “celebrities” like Don Shelby and Cyndy Brucato, both MinnPost contributors. Mark Dayton was last recorded making a joke in 1997, but he is the governor. Nearing the end of a difficult legislative session and facing big political and budgetary problems, Dayton may not be in the mood for laughs. But his appearance — and all the rest of the foolishness — should be subject to free and open coverage — by anyone who wants. It turns out, however, that the barons of our alternative news media aren’t much different from the barons of Old Media: MinnPost editor and CEO Joel Kramer — my boss at the Star-Tribune from 1983-86 — turned down my request for credentials not once, or twice, but three times.
But Coleman says his beef isn’t that MinnPost’s boss wouldn’t let him in for free — it’s that journalists shouldn’t act like clowns, even on their own time:
There are other awkward connections and possible conflicts among the list of MinnRoast sponsors and benefactors, a list that — despite a heavy sprinkling of “wealth creation” and investment firms — runs strongly towards the liberal-left end of the political establishment, which is the kind of thing that causes hard-right conservatives to dismiss MinnPost as a snake pit of Democrats, despite the online site’s lack of liberal bite. Am I suggesting anything improper? No. I am suggesting the appearance of impropriety. And that’s enough, in my view, to cast doubt on the wisdom of a bad idea.
Does a MinnPost roast reflect poorly on its journalism, or should journalists be allowed to have a laugh with politicians on occasion?