Late last week we introduced you to our new temporary advice column that we’re calling “Ask Ms. Politico.” She’s a very wise, all-knowing lady who knows the ins and outs of Politico ethics. In other words, we got our filthy hands on their new handy 11-page internal ethics manual and we like to share. So let’s get right down to today’s question.
By the way, we’re making up our own dumbass questions. But you can, too. Write us a question, and no doubt Politico‘s new ethics manual addresses it. Send to Betsy@mediabistro.com or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymity ensured.
Q: Hey there, hot stuff Ms. Politico. We have significant others and family members who are involved in politics. Can we go to their events, fool around with their colleagues, etc.? Just kidding about that last part, but what do we do? How do we avoid crossing the line? We can’t tell them to work elsewhere.
See Ms. Politico’s response…
Ms. Politico: “Everyone who works at POLITICO has an obligation to not do anything to compromise our publication’s reputation as a place that covers the news from a nonideological perspective. We all have personal views. What’s more, there is some extraordinary journalism produced by people who are opinion writers. At POLITICO, we have hired some people who come from publications known for advocacy journalism. But it is always with the understanding that advocacy journalism is not what we do here. Everyone who works at this place needs to accept some limitations in what we do and say in a public setting — and be aware that what qualifies as a public setting is wider for us than it is for most people. The obligations and limits are plainly tighter for people who work in the newsroom. But even people on the business side should be aware that their activities can draw attention. They should use careful judgement to ensure that the things they do as individuals do not enmesh the publication in controversy or make it harder for them or their colleagues to do their jobs. When in doubt, ask a manager. … We do not engage directly in politics or ideological activism. That means we don’t contribute to campaigns or political causes, we don’t sign petitions, we do not show up at marches or political fundraisers, except to report on them. … Like it or not, what our spouse, children or parents do — even though they are emancipated adults — may reflect on our publication. This is not to suggest that we seek to control family members, but we would like to know who is doing what. It’s far easier not to assign a story about defense contracting to someone whose son or daughter is in the defense procurement business. Just tell us about it. … There is no question that some of these limitations are hard, and gray-area questions routinely arise. John Harris and Jim VandeHei, for instance, both have spouses who have been involved in political activism. In their cases, they have taken extra steps to make sure that political contributions do not come in the family’s name; they do not accompany their wives to political events, even in the supportive spouse role.
(Pictured above: Mikey Allen, Autumn VandeHei, Jim VandeHei. Mikey isn’t a blood relative, but is widely considered part of the familia.)