Without fear or favor

The upcoming election will go down in history as the most divisive and obsessively fascinating in decades. With a week of campaigning left, the team at the Center for Public Integrity is still pushing hard and giving no quarter.

Journalists giving to politicians

That includes to our fellow journalists. Federal politics reporters Dave Levinthal and Michael Beckel took on the entrenched interests of their own profession with a fascinating piece on journalists who showed up in campaign finance data: the vast majority of them supporting Hillary Clinton.

Of course it played into the Trump narrative – which was never our intention as such – with The Donald tweeting the story as evidence of bias against him. Perhaps more importantly,  it generated hundreds of thousands of views on our site and on the site of the partner which ran it, the Columbia Journalism Review. It also generated significant debate across the media and among colleagues over whether journalists should contribute to politics.

I realized I am quite old fashioned in my belief – honed in years at Reuters – that it is beyond the pale for an active reporter to contribute to any political cause. Turns out many do and many organizations permit it. The Center has a strict policy forbidding journalist and non-journalist staff from any political activity— but would it stand up to a court challenge?

Emily Nussbaum, the New Yorker critic who covered the Republican National Convention and was identified by Dave and Michael as contributing $250 to Hillary, addressed the issue rather adroitly in her latest piece in the New Yorker, disarming us with: “Full disclosure: late one night, while watching Fox News, I donated two hundred and fifty dollars to Hillary Clinton’s campaign…My bias, in sum, is as blatant as a Celtic arm tattoo.”

Help? Who do I believe about Donald and Hillary?

Our sage National Security managing editor R. Jeffrey Smith – a Pulitzer Prize-winning hand formerly of the Washington Post – stepped into the federal politics beat with a brace of stories packed with humor so dry it almost combusted with the cynicism he exposed in the conduct of both presidential campaigns on foreign policy issues.

In an illuminating and entertaining pair of stories, carefully labeled “A nonpartisan guide” Jeff examined the bromance between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and the bizarre, partially baked policy ideas of the Republican candidate, saying Clinton supporters might sum up his campaign slogan as “let global chaos reign.” In the second piece Jeff took apart the record of Clinton as Secretary of State, suggesting that to her enemies her slogan could be: “I’m going to look after my friends and not tell you anything. “

Jeff also used the story as vehicle to get into the remarkable and so far underreported contents of the emails – no not those emails – between Clinton campaign boss John Podesta and Douglas Band, a long-time Clinton flunky, which show the dark underbelly of how money and influence really work in Washington. It’s a genuinely exciting and interesting read either with us or over on Salon.com which partnered on it and Part 1.

A strong collection

I have been really remiss in not writing this note for a little while— for which I apologize to my team and those kind enough to give us feedback.

A few stories during the past few weeks which I think warrant calling out include:

- Allan Holmes, our telecom specialist, whom I urged to enter the fray of the AT&T/Time Warner merger in light of his deep reporting experience in this area. He has written gracefully on how the exiting oligopoly on cable and broadband delivers a terrible deal to all Americans and a really terrible deal to poor Americans. Here’s his take on AT&T/TW. - our work on broadband (featuring Chris Zubak-Skees) was cited by the judges in the Editor & Publisher Eppy Awards last month, recognizing the Center for Public Integrity with an award for data journalism and visualization. - data is central to story-telling at the Center and Chris’ work was also prominent in the launch project of the Carbon Wars series by Jim Morris’ environment team. It’s a major series and will last a couple of years, starting with this piece by Jamie Smith Hopkins explaining the daily reality of climate change right here. - away from the Presidential race our powerful states team, led by Kytja Weir, has been tracking ad spending across the country and looking at the down ballot races and how candidates differentiate themselves from the somewhat unappealing presidential duo – even those on the same ticket. Much more from the team in Who’s Calling the Shots in State Politics.

What we’re reading and thinking about

I thought George Packer’s analysis on the disaffection of white, working class, American voters in the New Yorker last week was one of the finest pieces of long-form analysis I had read on a phenomenon that had gone ignored by the media and politicians until the shock of Trump. It quotes from a book which has also been something of a revelation in explaining that phenomenon, J.D. Vance’s pull-up-your-socks memoir and libertarian treatise Hillbilly Elegy: A memoir of a family and a culture in crisis.

Also in books— and highly relevant given Vladimir Putin’s voices-off-stage role in the election— is former Financial Times Moscow correspondent David Satter’s wonderful take down of Putin: “The less you know, the better you sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin” If you ever find yourself wondering if Putin can be so bad and if maybe Donald has a point, it is worth reading that book to set yourself straight.

Thank you,

I welcome feedback on this note.

Peter Bale CEO, The Center for Public Integrity pbale@publicintegrity.org @peterbale

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