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Political Bias and Instrumentalization

The significance of source relations for state house press corps reporters goes beyond means to report the news. Striking a balance between having good relations with a number of them while not being too dependent on particular sources is an important component of political reporters’ sense of professional self-worth. Thus, biased and partisan journalism—connected to journalists’ allegiances or ideological convictions—are key criteria for defining unprofessional journalism. As a bureau chief in the LCA said: “If you’re an ideologue and letting that slip in, I think that’s bad journalism” (Interview, LCA reporter, February 10, 2011). One article another reporter read on the day of the interview was a representation of this type of bad journalism to him. It was “biased in a real way ... in the sense of deliberately doing what you can do to help or hurt an official” (Interview, LCA reporter, January 21, 2011). Others distinguished gradations of partisan journalism where taking sides is bad but taking one side is even worse.

LP reporters generally shared these views, describing the worst case as journalism that is fused with personal interests. One of them emphasized that “we are journalists, not politicians” while acknowledging that some journalists did have a “very strong sense of mission” (Interview, LP reporter, April 17, 2012). One way this sense of mission manifests is when political interests and/or politicians instrumentalize journalists. Such journalists facilitate anonymous attacks against particular political targets, misrepresent news accounts by not acknowledging the opposite side of an issue, and engage in extensive give-and-takes with sources.

While LP journalists hardly referred to their peers, LCA journalists attributed the propensity to allow anonymous attacks to particular members of the press corps, especially Fred Dicker. During the research period, his support for and good relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo were particular subjects of debate. Anonymous sourcing did not constitute a boundary issue in Munich, but LP reporters rejected the appropriation of journalism by a growing number of PR professionals and lobbyists. Though it came up on occasion, the situation of being confronted with a growing PR and lobbying army seemed more self-evident to US reporters. Some of them underlined that lobbyists were often more helpful sources than politicians.

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