- - Wednesday, January 1, 2014



John Miller, who recently left CBS News after a much-criticized story on the National Security Agency for “60 Minutes,” has become the poster child for what’s wrong with the revolving door between journalism and government.

During his career, Mr. Miller has worked for two New York television stations, ABC News, CBS News, the Los Angeles Police Department, the New York Police Department — twice — and the FBI.

When I worked as a reporter, an unwritten — albeit powerful — rule held that a reporter could go into government or public relations, but that individual couldn’t come back to journalism. The rule made sense. If journalists joined the ranks of those they covered, how was it possible to write accurately and honestly if they came back as reporters?

That rule has been broken more and more in recent years, but it may be time to put it back into place. Simply put, the crossover between government and journalism has grown enormously over the past few years, sending a message to the American public that the government and the media have become buddies from the same schools and social clubs.

Here is just a partial breakdown of major players in the media, excluding the talking heads on talk-show panels who have close political connections:

ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos served as a top adviser to President Clinton.

Fox News President Roger Ailes worked for a variety of Republicans, including Ronald Reagan and Rudolph W. Giuliani.

NBC correspondent Pete Williams held the position of the Department of Defense’s chief spokesman during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews worked for a variety of Democrats, including as chief of staff for House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill Jr.

But the conflicts of interest go the other way too, from the media to government, with more than 20 journalists joining the Obama administration in various capacities. (See thebea.st/JklGTz).

White House press secretary Jay Carney spent 20 years at Time, rising to be the magazine’s Washington bureau chief before becoming Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s spokesman in 2008 and then President Obama’s press secretary in 2011. Shailagh Murray, a veteran congressional reporter for The Washington Post, replaced Mr. Carney as Mr. Biden’s communications director.

Glen Johnson spent nearly 20 years covering politics, alternating between The Associated Press and the The Boston Globe. Last January, Mr. Johnson joined the State Department as a senior adviser to Secretary of State John F. Kerry, with a focus on strategic communications. His rationale, as he told to The Globe: “This chance to serve the country and Secretary Kerry at such a tumultuous time, as well as work in foreign affairs and travel the world, was too compelling an opportunity to pass up.”

Linda Douglass worked for ABC, CBS and the National Journal before joining Mr. Obama’s campaign in 2008 and then became a top spokeswoman for the Affordable Care Act. She returned to the National Journal in 2010 as vice president for strategic communications.

Here’s what is important. If someone wants to go into government or public relations, that’s perfectly fine. But once you cross that partisan line, you should not be able to come back to journalism. Alternatively, if you serve in government, you should not be able to become a reporter.

It’s time for journalists to restore the system of choosing one side or the other — not the revolving door we have seen. Otherwise, journalists — already seen by the public in a negative light — will be viewed as cheerleaders for one political party or the other.

Christopher Harper is a professor at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20.” He can be contacted at [email protected] Twitter: @charper51.

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