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Last year, when Jon Stewart organized his “Rally to Restore Sanity,” the Washington Post was one of several organizations to send a memo out to its newsroom staff that forbade them from participating:
Events, like those organized by Glenn Beck or involving Jon Stewart and Steven [sic] Colbert, are political, and therefore Post newsroom employees may not participate. By participate, we mean that Post newsroom employees cannot in any way put themselves in a position that could be construed as supporting (or opposing) that cause. That means no T-shirts, buttons, marching, chanting, etc. This guideline does not prohibit Post newsroom employees from observing—that is, watching and listening from the sidelines. The important thing is that it should be evident to anyone that you are observing, as journalists do, not participating, whether you are covering the event or not.
We made fun of it at the time, partly because sending out a memo to remind journalists of their ethics was amusing. But the memo came to mind when I saw that Post staff writer Anne Kornblut testified before the D.C. Council on Wednesday in favor of more bike and pedestrian safety measures in her neighborhood.
The issue wasn’t that Kornblut wants more safety where she lives—-I am in favor of people getting involved in their neighborhoods. But Kornblut says she had the support of her editors because it was a local issue, not a national issue. As she said to me via e-mail, “I obviously wouldn’t get involved in anything that I might cover.” And yes, fair enough.
But I have to wonder at the Post’s policy on letting staff get involved in governmental issues—-particularly in a town that the paper lives in and covers. Even if Kornblut doesn’t cover local issues, the Post has some stake in what happens here. And this leads me to a larger question: Why does the Post consider a rally “political,” if a local legislative issue isn’t? And while increased pedestrian and bicycle safety is an admirable goal—-don’t tell us it isn’t political.
Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti hasn’t gotten back to me yet with an answer—but I’lll update if she does.
UPDATE: Coratti just wrote back to say: “In hindsight, we shouldn’t have approved this.” So don’t look for any more Posties to testify at the Wilson Building any time soon.