Mar 1 2006

Sidebar: Strictly Personal

[Note: this piece is a sidebar to “Fear & Favor 2005—FAIR’s Sixth Annual Report.”]

Sometimes the conflict of interest isn’t with advertisers or owners, but with reporters themselves. It isn’t that journalists aren’t allowed to have private lives. But readers and viewers do have to wonder, in some cases, whether someone with fewer entanglements couldn’t have been found to report certain stories—and in other cases, whether some folks are just plain overentangled.

In describing the qualities you’d want in a reputable news reporter and anchor, “has taken money to promote powerful interests” would not be high on the list. But that seems to have helped Patrick Evans land a job at Fox TV affiliate WVUE in New Orleans (New Orleans Times-Picayune, 2/26/05). Evans was formerly a reporter/anchor at WWL-TV, but left in 2000 to pursue public relations on behalf of an amusement park, the Naval Reserve and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Months after leaving Nagin’s office, Evans got the job at WVUE, where news director Mimi Strawn notes: “He knows the players, he knows the ‘who’s who.’ You can’t buy that anywhere.” Indeed, sometimes Evans is the “who’s who,” as in a story involving a discrimination suit against Nagin and several of his advisers. “Patrick’s name was all over it,” admitted Strawn, assuring that the station’s sole weekend anchor “will not do those stories.” No word on whether Evans would do any stories involving the Naval Reserve, an entity to whom his commitment is, he says, “open-ended.”

“Has anyone seen View from the Top with Gwyneth Paltrow? Well that’s just one of the flops that he produced. And this is the guy who’ll be greenlighting movies? Hmmm, good luck, Paramount.” That was KTLA-TV entertainment reporter Zorianna Kit’s scathing assessment of Paramount Pictures’ hiring of Brad Grey (1/6/05). Her view may or may not have been colored by the fact that her husband lost a bitter lawsuit to Grey, but, as the L.A. Times reported (3/1/05), that part wasn’t mentioned to viewers. Likewise, L.A. Times readers assessing reporter Ron Brownstein’s April 25 think piece on the formation of a third party led by John McCain were not clued in to the fact that Brownstein was engaged to McCain’s communications director (Columbia Journalism Review, 7-8/05).