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My rebuttal to this pap from the L.A. Times:

It's an open secret that the Federal Election Commission's criteria for inclusion in their database is a contribution (or series of contributions) totaling $200 or more. Anything less than that and it's very likely that you won't show up in their database.

See this Daily Kos report.

The upshot of that? The data you and other reporters are using to comment on political donations from journalists is utterly flawed, and a poor metric for measuring any supposed "media bias." There's no way of knowing exactly how many journalists have contributed to political campaigns, given this data set, and any attempts to identify trends in such incomplete data should be labeled inconclusive at best.

My guess? There are probably a lot more journalists donating in small amounts on both sides of the aisle than the FEC database is reporting. You know what you should be pushing for? For the FEC to disclose—in writing, on its website—its criteria/cutoff point for inclusion in the database. Or—even better—for more stringent disclosure standards for all political campaigns. More transparency on all fronts from the government and candidates themselves, rather than this spurious attack on supposedly Democratic journalists.

The thing you don't know is whether one party or the other happens to have more lax internal standards of reporting, or whether campaigns are deliberately (or, perhaps due to lax standards of their own, unintentionally) fudging the data. That would require a more in-depth probe—something you certainly haven't done here.

Not only that, donating to Barack Obama or John McCain, respectively, doesn't make one a Democrat or Republican. Many independents donate to the candidate they believe will be best in office. Further, many of the donations you're "reporting," you'll notice if you actually search the FEC's database, are to local candidates, for many of whom party affiliation is only a small part of their overall platform.

Further, on a percentage basis, of the thousands of working journalists in this country, a couple hundred journalist contributors is a tiny number. What percentage would you say constitutes enough to say there's a bias in the media at large? Where do you draw the line? And where do you draw the line between the personal lives and public lives of journalists? That's where the real discussion of ethics lies, and you've completely failed to address it. Way to sidestep the very large and nebulous question of what standard we truly should be holding journalists to, and where journalists' professional lives end and their personal lives begin.

This story is an interesting idea, to be sure, and I'm certain the headline on this blog post has drawn thousands of people to your website today who otherwise would not have visited. But seriously, I expect better from a major metropolitan daily. At very least you should have included some discussion of potential discrepancies in the data. But no... you just took someone else's reporting as a jumping-off point for discussing this in a shallow manner without actually bothering to research the relevant facts yourself. And topped it off with some fluff about Obama's recent travels abroad.

You know what'll help the cachet of journalists everywhere? If people like you who happen to have a big megaphone do your homework before writing things like this. This could be a far more interesting story than what you've written, but you'll never know if you don't investigate further and raise the bar yourself.

1:51 pm, July 26, 2008 :: erstwhile

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