The media is up in arms this week over Fox News host Sean Hannity’s relationship with Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.
Journalists have decided it was improper for Hannity not to disclose his relationship with Cohen while defending him on air, but many have had their own connections to a famed political lawyer.
Bob Barnett has represented scores of politicians, including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Laura Bush. He served as the Clintons’ personal lawyer while they were in the White House. In addition, he is one of the most prominent lawyers representing journalists and TV anchors.
In fact, his own website describes him as the “leading representatives of television news correspondents.” A Washingtonian article from 2008 says Barnett is “Washington’s indispensable man, the link among politicians, authors, government officials, journalists, ex-presidents, future presidents, and even foreign leaders.”
According to Barnett, he has represented famed Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, CNN’s Jake Tapper, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Jim Acosta, and Jeff Zeleny, MSNBC’s Brian Williams, Peter Alexander, and Chris Jansing, and Fox News’ Steve Doocy, Brit Hume, Neil Cavuto, Dana Perino, Jesse Watters, and Juan Williams.
Questions about Barnett’s ties between politicians and journalists have been raised before. Barnett gained major influence in the Clinton White House after the Whitewater incident and, in 1993, The Wall Street Journal wondered if journalists could properly report on the Clintons while retaining their personal lawyer.
Media critic Marvin Kitman wrote, “How exactly does a real reporter, I found myself wondering, cover the President and then sleep with his lawyer every night?”
Barnett even resigned from being the Clintons’ lawyer due to the heavy criticism, but returned to the gig in 1997 after his wife left her job at CBS.
That same year, Barnett helped now-ABC anchor George Stephanopolous sell a book proposal for $2.7 million. He went on to help Woodward and Bernstein sell the Watergate papers to the University of Texas for $5 million. He has been responsible for tons of book deals for top reporters and politicians in the game.
With all of the criticism thrown at Hannity for his relationship with Cohen — which he claims was just “brief discussions” about legal advice — it’s certainly interesting that journalists haven’t considered their own potential ethical dilemmas with Barnett.
Fox News’ Howard Kurtz wrote on Wednesday that Hannity should have disclosed his relationship with Cohen. His advice could just as easily apply to the many who have covered the Clinton family without talking about the fact that the Clintons’ personal lawyer has made them millions of dollars.
“Sometimes people in journalism, on the news or opinion side, find themselves covering folks with whom they have had friendships or professional dealings,” Kurtz explained. “If the relationship is serious enough, it may require recusal. If not, the best course is being transparent and disclosing it.”