I am a big fan of Politico and of the work of their reporter, Jonathan Martin. But I do question the decision of Politico’s editors to require (or continue to allow) Martin to write about the Virginia Governor’s race. Politico should disclose to its readers Martin’s history in Republican politics and in Virginia and Connecticut politics.
Since they won’t, I will.
Martin served on the campaign staff of Mark Earley, the Republican nominee for Governor of Virginia in 2001. After Mark Warner was elected Governor over Earley with 52 percent of the vote, Martin relocated to Connecticut to work on the successful 2002 Congressional campaign of Connecticut Republican Rob Simmons. After Simmons assumed office, Martin joined his Congressional staff as a legislative assistant in 2003. In the fall of 2004, Martin took a leave of absence from Simmons’s Congressional staff to work on the Congressman’s re-election campaign in 2004. After Simmons was reelected, Martin returned to Simmons’s Congressional payroll and remained there until August 2005.
What’s not as clear from online sources is where Martin worked after leaving Congressman Simmons’s office. I believe he was an original staffer at Politico when it was launched in 2006 as the Capitol Leader in 2006, but I don’t know for sure when Martin began work as a journalist.
While some have questioned how Martin conducted himself during the 2008 presidential campaign, that’s not my purpose here. My complaint is not with him. My beef is with the editors of Politico. They shouldn’t allow Martin to do any reporting about politicians in Virginia and Connecticut without disclosing his history to readers. Consider this: Mark Warner, a Connecticut native and former staffer to Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd is now Virginia’s junior Senator. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine was part of the 2001 winning Democratic ticket. (Kaine was elected Lt. Governor that year.) And former Congressman Simmons is trying to make a comeback and is widely expected to be the GOP nominee to run against Senator Dodd next year.
Is it possible that Martin can be objective about the Virginia Democrats who defeated his boss 8 years ago or the Connecticut Democrat his former boss is trying to unseat next year? Sure.
But I think that’s asking a lot. For the same reason, I didn’t think it was appropriate for ABC’s George Stephanopoulos to report on former Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. Clinton partisans will say that if anything, Stephanopoulos was harder on her as an effort to compensate for any perceived bias based on his service in the Clinton White House. Maybe that’s what Deeds, Kaine and Warner McDonnell supporters think about Martin’s coverage. I don’t know.
The difference is, the Politico has not disclosed Martin’s background. (Stephanopoulos’s relationship to the Clintons is more widely known.)
Both Politico and Martin should be more transparent. If financial journalists are disclosing whether or not they own the stock they are recommending as a buy or sell, why can’t political reporters disclose their political history?
Update Oct. 7 — Information is trickling in on Jonathan Martin’s background. Apparently before he joined Politico, he worked for National Journal’s Hotline. Here’s a sample of his work from September 2006. So what was Martin doing after he left Rep. Simmons’s office and before he went to work for National Journal? When did he join Politico? If you know, please email me at FakeVirginia at Yahoo dot com. Like Martin and his colleagues at Politico, I will guarantee your anonymity.
Also, I urge you to visit Vivian Paige’s blog. She spotted this post and had an interesting suggestion in light of the recent decision by the FTC that bloggers must disclose the freebies.