When Should Reporters Disclose Connections?

By Alex Weprin 

Let’s get this out of the way: conflicts of interest are rife in the TV news business.

CBS News president (and former Fox News executive) David Rhodes is the brother of one of President Obama’s advisers Ben Rhodes. NBC News anchor Andrea Mitchell is married to former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan. Bob Schieffer’s brother Tom Schieffer was President Bush’s Ambassador to Japan.

In other words: potential conflicts happen all the time. The question is when should they be disclosed? Typically subjects with a conflict aren’t allowed to cover anything related to that conflict. If they do, a disclosure is a must.

The latest flap involves new CNN anchor Jake Tapper.

Tapper’s very first story for the network was about Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides stepping down. Nides is the husband of Tapper’s CNN (and former ABC) colleague Virginia Moseley. Tapper apparently got the story without ever talking to Moseley, but it does not change the fact that there is a very significant CNN connection, and there was no mention of it. Politico wonders what this means regarding CNN’s disclosure policies.

In Washington, the journalists, the politicians and the lobbyists hobnob at the same parties, and many of them are friends. If everything was disclosed then just about every story from every reporter in DC would end with “I am a friend of a friend of this person” or “I hooked up with this person at 3 AM after the White House Correspondents Dinner.” Obviously that doesn’t happen, but sometimes a story does hit a little too close to home.

Former CNN and NBC anchor Campbell Brown is probably right when she argues that full transparency and disclosure is the best way forward. Even if it means acknowledging that you have friends and loved ones who have a stake in the game.