Media Downplay Their Conflicts of Interest

By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media


The mainstream media might just be owned and operated by the Obama Administration—lock, stock, and barrel. They are married at the hip, quite literally, and often have relatives within the Administration.

The Washington Post names names in a recent piece entitled, “Media, administration deal with conflicts.” Conflicts of interest, that is.

But the Post takes an unusual approach to the conflicts. It says the media are unconcerned and can police their own behavior. Does this sound familiar? Eric Holder, anyone?

“So what to make of all the family ties between the news media and the Obama administration?” writes Paul Farhi for The Washington Post. “According to the news media, nothing much at all,” he writes (emphasis added). “News organizations say they’ve worked out the conflicts—real or potential—involving their journalists. But that hasn’t stopped a few eyebrows from being raised.”

Consider the words of Richard Grenell, a political consultant who in an appearance on Fox News noted that top networks ABC, CBS and CNN have intimate family ties to the Administration. “CBS News President David Rhodes and ABC News President Ben Sherwood, both of them have siblings that not only work at the White House, that not only work for President Obama, but they work at the NSC on foreign policy issues directly related to Benghazi,” said Grenell.

CNN’s deputy bureau chief, Virginia Mosely, is married to Tom Nides, who was appointed by Obama to work under Hillary as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources. This means that the Benghazi scandal causes some familial angst. What better (or worse, depending on your perspective) reason to go soft on reporting than because your own family is involved?

“Conservatives have suggested that these relationships may play a role in how the media cover Obama, specifically in their supposedly timid approach to reporting on the White House’s handling of the terrorist attacks last year on American facilities in Benghazi, Libya,” writes Farhi.

Clearly, ABC, CBS, and CNN cannot be trusted to tell the whole story on Benghazi. But the bias doesn’t end there.

It is commonly known that David Plouffe, Obama’s former campaign manager, has joined Bloomberg News as a commentator, and former senior advisor to the president David Axelrod was hired by MSNBC. (The President went so far as to joke at the latest White House Correspondents’ Association dinner that “… David Axelrod now works for MSNBC, which is a nice change of pace since MSNBC used to work for David Axelrod.”)

What is less well known is that 14 or more journalists have joined the Obama Administration and taken key posts there. “Those inside the administration hit 14 this month when the Post’s Stephen Barr joined the Labor Department,” reported the Washington Examiner last February. “That’s a record, say some revolving door watchers, and could even be much higher: The [Washington] Post reports that “dozens” of former journalists have joined the administration, although Washington Secrets couldn’t verify that tally.” After all, there’s “… a whopping 19 journalists and media executives, including five from The Washington Post and three each from ABC and CNN, who’ve gone into the administration or center-left groups supporting the president.”

So the media have relatives in the Administration, accept political hacks from the Administration as commentators, and have former colleagues who work there. The interrelations are so complex that reporters have to recuse themselves behind the scenes and even reassign employees because the conflicts are too great.

What possible reason, then, would the media have to cover for the Administration’s missteps? It looks like there are lots of reasons.

The Washington Post article outlines several more journalists with marital or familial conflicts. For example, “NPR’s White House correspondent, Ari Shapiro, is married to a lawyer, Michael Gottlieb, who joined the White House counsel’s office in April.” And, “The Post’s Justice Department reporter, Sari Horwitz, is married to William B. Schultz, the general counsel of the Department of Human Services; the reporter of this article sometimes writes about CBS News and is related to an employee there.” In addition, “Biden’s current communications director, Shailagh Murray (a former Post congressional reporter), is married to Neil King, one of the Wall Street Journal’s top political reporters.”

It’s no wonder, then, that The New York Times and ABC News reported the recent IRS targeting scandal as a Republican attempt to gain political traction in Washington and throughout the nation, rather than as a Nixonesque grab for power.

But we are supposed to trust the media to recuse themselves from stories in which they have a conflict of interest. “Some outlets demand that their journalists recuse themselves from assignments that might tread too close to a family member’s area of responsibility,” reports Farhi. “ABC, for example, says that Sherwood doesn’t get involved with any stories dealing with arms control, his sister’s specialty,” he writes. “NPR said Shapiro avoids any story in which a member of the White House counsel’s office participates, such as a recent background briefing on Benghazi.”

“And CNN said [Virginia] Moseley, who formerly was with ABC News, recuses herself from working on any story about the Benghazi investigation, even though her husband left the State Department in February.” Note that two of the examples involve the Benghazi scandal.

While journalists may recuse themselves from stories that they may influence, that doesn’t mean their existence as an employee—or, especially, as a leader—doesn’t put soft pressure on a news organization to cover the story from a different angle. Sometimes all it takes is a behind-the-scenes comment to influence a story. And generally the biases are known in advance. Accepted truths are just that: the diffuse influence of friends, colleagues, and family members on a person’s perspective.

But Farhi certainly leaves readers with the idea that we are safe from media bias. After all, ABC’s Shipman “stopped covering politics in late 2008 after her husband, Carney, left Time magazine to become press secretary for Vice President-elect Joe Biden.” Carney, of course, later became White House spokesman for President Obama. And late last month, after he had been caught either lying, or passing on wrong information about who at the White House knew about the IRS targeting of conservative groups and when they knew it, he was rewarded with a 900-word, two-page Style section puff-piece in The Washington Post about his musical proclivities and favorite band. If he were a conservative, this would have been said to have humanized him.

“She’s [Shipman] now the senior national correspondent for ‘Good Morning, America’” and covers soft topics such as “diet and fitness,” says Farhi.

Farhi quotes Jeffrey Schneider, ABC News’ chief spokesman, as saying, “There is zero evidence, zero, that [Ben Sherwood’s relationship] has had any impact on our coverage.” Evidence is an interesting word in this context. How about common sense and human nature? Though not quantifiable evidence, they certainly lead us to draw conclusions. Conclusions that our liberal media clearly don’t want us to draw.

Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and can be contacted at


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