- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2014

Journalism and open government groups have criticized President Obama for falling short of promises to increase transparency, but that hasn’t stopped reporters and editors from gobbling up jobs in his administration.

One of the latest to go from covering the administration to promoting it is Dorie Nolt, who left her job as education reporter for The Associated Press in 2012 and recently became press secretary at the Education Department, after working as assistant communications director at the Georgia Department of Education.

She joins at least 22 other former journalists who have worked or who continue to work in the administration, according to White House announcements, ethics filings and media reports.

They include prominent media figures like former Time Magazine employees Jay Carney, the reporter turned White House press secretary, and managing editor Richard Stengel, who took a roughly quarter million dollar bonus before he left for an under secretary post at the State Department.

Conservatives have blasted the pipeline of journalists heading into the administration as evidence of media bias. Last year, when Mr. Stengel’s appointment became public, radio show host Rush Limbaugh said there was “an incestuous relationship.”

But journalism experts say for other less well-known figures in the media, the move likely has less to do with politics than the prospect of better pay and job stability at a time when the news business is struggling.

“There are fewer journalism jobs and they don’t pay as well,” said Bryce Nelson, a journalism professor at the University of Southern California whose resume includes working as a Washington correspondent for The Los Angeles Times.

But there’s another upside beyond financial considerations, he added.

“People take these government jobs not only because there is more stability and more money, but they can increase their power and influence in journalism,” he said.

Mr. Nelson pointed to Bill Moyers, the former aide to President Johnson who went on to become publisher of Newsday. A more recent example is George Stephanopoulos, who was communications director in the Clinton administration and now works as chief political correspondent at ABC News.

For the administration, the lure of reporters is that they know how reporters work in ways that probably escape public relations professionals.

“Politicians think reporters can help them because they know how reporters think,” said Mike Shanahan, a former White House reporter who teaches at George Washington University.

“There’s always that belief in Washington if you hire an experienced reporter then you can control your message more easily,” he said.

Even if a political appointment lasts just a few years, a high-profile communications position in the administration can open other job opportunities at K Street consulting and lobbying firms.

Ms. Nolt did not respond by deadline. But she’s among a handful of journalists who have received special waivers from President Obama’s ethics rules that aim to close the revolving door between government and special interests.

Those rules state that appointees can’t work on specific matters involving former clients and employers for two years unless they receive a waiver. That’s a problem for former journalists who need to talk to the media organizations where they worked.

Ms. Nolt received a waiver from the Education Department so she could communicate with The Associated Press.

Similar waivers have been granted to Paul Franz, former national security editor at The Washington Post who took a job as assistant secretary for public affairs at the State Department; and Glen Johnson, former online politics editor at The Boston Globe, who went from covering Sen. John F. Kerry to working for him as a senior adviser at the State Department.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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