Wikileaks released over 20,000 emails Friday composed by officials at the Democratic National Committee, including one that may indicate collusion between the DNC and Politico’s chief investigative reporter Ken Vogel.
The email, dated April 20, 2016, shows Vogel shared a draft of a story with DNC Deputy Communications Director Mark Paustenbach before publication. “Vogel gave me his story ahead of time/before it goes to his editors as long as I didn’t share it,” Paustenbach said in an email forwarding the piece to DNC colleagues. “Let me know if you see anything that’s missing and I’ll push back.” (RELATED: Wikileaks Releases Nearly 20,000 Hacked DNC Emails)
The email could indicate collusion between Vogel and the DNC, a highly unethical journalistic practice.
The practice of “draft sharing” is not necessarily irregular or unethical, however. Journalists sometimes share draft copies of articles with subjects of their reporting for purposes of checking facts or ensuring sources are quoted accurately. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple, who reports and comments extensively on media, defended the practice in a 2012 post, arguing that reviewing copy with sources was the best way to ensure accurate reportage.
Vogel’s report was generally critical of the DNC and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Vogel’s reporting revealed Clinton shared less than 1 percent of the near $60 million she raised for her presidential campaign with Democratic state party committees, despite her frequent promises to strengthen state parties. Vogel also revealed most of the cash the Clinton campaign gave to state committees was transferred back to the DNC in short order. The story’s negative cast undermines claims of collusion.
Nonetheless, some media ethicists say sharing drafts with sources and subjects is always bad practice — even advocates admit the matter is ethically ambiguous.
“It’s been a time-honored code that you don’t show sources stories before they run,” Renita Coleman, a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, said in 2012. Edward Wasserman, the Knight Chair in Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University, told the Texas Observer draft sharing is “hard to square with even the most source-friendly reporting practices.”
Politico, a Virginia-based publication, has been accused of unethical collusion with prominent Democrats before.
Mike Allen, Politico’s departing chief White House correspondent, promised Chelsea Clinton glowing coverage if she agreed to a question and answer session at a Politico event, according to emails first obtain by Gawker. Allen assured a Clinton aide they could work together to establish questions in advance, shielding her from risk. Allen later apologized for the proposed arrangement.
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