Journalists follow the money and find it leads to them

In my idealistic world, it’s hard to believe that a journalist would be stupid enough to donate money to a politics-based organization, but Judy Woodruff was just that stupid.

Woodruff, who anchors the PBS NewsHour, contributed $250 to the Clinton Foundation’s Haiti relief efforts, a noble endeavor, but one that now ties her to the Democratic politicians, a sin of the first order for respectable journalists.

She joins George Stephanopoulos, the ABC TV anchor, who gave $75,000, but whose political allegiance has been well known, considering he worked for the Clinton administration. Pols turned journalists are always suspect, but news organizations have been willing to sacrifice ethics for the big name for some time now.

Woodruff, on the other hand, is a lifelong journalist who defends her gift as “charitable.”

That’s a big “no sale” to Michael Getler, the PBS ombudsman, who writes this week that NewsHour is stained by the contribution, particularly since NewsHour hasn’t touched the Stephanopoulos story.

Woodruff has had a distinguished, 45-year journalistic career, holding down important positions with CBS, NBC, CNN and PBS. She has always struck me as straight and professional in her approach to the news and, having watched her now for several years, I couldn’t tell you how she’d vote. But there are lots of ways to contribute to Haitian earthquake relief. So the choice of the Clinton Foundation, even in a small amount and with the best of intentions, was a mistake in my book.

Was the Woodruff link the reason the NewsHour chose not to cover a story that has generated lots of continuing coverage in The Washington Post, New York Times and many other outlets? It doesn’t look good from where I sit. The program did post an Associated Press story on its web site last Friday but, aside from the Woodruff statement, it has broadcast nothing about the broader story to its viewers. And the AP story did not mention Woodruff.

I asked the NewsHour’s executive producer, Sara Just, for the reasoning behind not covering the Stephanopoulos story on the air. She said: “We had an online piece but for broadcast we didn’t think it met the bar as a story for our limited on-air news hole that day.”

“In my job, I sometimes chafe at some of the restrictions or…the various checks and balances but, you know, it’s there for a reason,” Stephanopoulos told Alec Baldwin on his show/podcast in earlier March.

That was before it was revealed that Stephanopoulos was ignoring those reasons and forfeiting every shred of trust he might have earned.