Should reporters vote?

  • Share
  • Read Later

Last Tuesday, I voted in my state’s primary. I’ll even tell you who I voted for: Hillary Clinton. I’m a registered Democrat, and I’ve been voting for nearly 20 years, ever since I came to this country. In past presidential elections, I voted for Kerry, Gore, Clinton and Clinton.

But being a reporter, should I have voted at all?

Marketwatch’s Jon Friedman tackles this question in his article yesterday, coming down firmly in the affirmative. Others disagree. He writes:

Ken Bazinet, White House correspondent for the New York Daily News, will try hard to help his audience make a decision about the election. But Bazinet says he hasn’t voted for president since he started reporting on the White House. “It’s my personal preference,” said Bazinet, who has covered the beat for the Daily News for nine years. “My job is to provide information for others to make a vote. It’s not a question of whether I plan to vote,” he added. “That’s not how I approach it. I want to write copy to inspire people to read about the candidates.”

Now, there’s a big difference between me and Bazinet: he covers politics, and, in specific, the White House, while I cover…pretty much anything but. I can see how a political reporter who has to spend his days trailing McCain might not want him to know he cast his ballot for Romney (although why he’d have to tell him at all, I can’t fathom).

So I asked some of our star political reporters here at TIME if they voted. Here’s how a couple of them responded.

Karen Tumulty: “My primary is next week and I do intend to vote.”

Joe Klein: “Yes I voted. I always do. I’m a citizen.”

And then there’s Jim Poniewozik, who writes about TV: “Writing about election coverage, I have disclosed, probably to the point of tediousness, that I voted for Obama. I think it’s a good thing for you to know, but I really do it for me. It’s important to me that I have enough perspective to critique campaign coverage whether it works for my candidate or against him. Having you know more about where I’m coming from helps you keep me honest and forces me to police myself.

“Of course, when it comes down to it, I’m a pop-culture columnist. Who really gives a crap who I’m voting for? For political writers it’s different. But it shouldn’t be.”

Friedman of Marketwatch concludes:

I can appreciate the adage “No cheering in the press box,” coined to discourage sportswriters from rooting for the home team. Objectivity is essential. Of course, you should feel free to vote. You’re American citizens (I presume) and this is one of our rights.

To me, voting is a private matter that ought not be dictated by work. Moreover, it’s not just the right of citizenship—it’s a responsibility. Bobby Ghosh, TIME’s World editor and an Indian national, told me yesterday that in his home country, voter turnout is close to 60%. Voter turnout in the U.S. for our last presidential elections in 2004 was 43.8%. “Maybe it’s just that India is a new democracy, and people are still excited about the process,” he mused.

We journalists are trained from the first day of Reporting 101 to operate as professionals even as we cover topics we have or develop strong feelings about. But more and more, we’re being encouraged to express those feelings in forums like these. The line between the objective and subjective, if there ever was one, is growing blurrier by the day.

Let me give you an example that doesn’t involve politics. I have strong and conflicted feelings about my faith, which I expressed in detail in this essay last year. But I write about religion sometimes, as I did in this article about young American women joining the sisterhood and this one about pastors’ wives. I am deeply interested in people’s relationship with their faith—even as, or maybe because, I question mine. Do you think I should give up writing about that topic until I resolve my own struggle?

Or, to look at it another way, should I stop writing about Christians because I am one myself? Does my upbringing as a Catholic make me more sympathetic to that religion (or, right now, less)? Would a reporter who is an avowed agnostic do a better job?

I believe reporters can exercise their profession with skill and fairness and still be human beings with beliefs, conflicted feelings and opinions. I believe reporters—even those who cover politics—can and should vote.