From JournoList to activist, it appears that WaPo‘s liberal blogger Ezra Klein is once again blurring the lines between being a journalist and trying to sway politics. In what appears to be at a minimum a breach of journalism ethics, Klein spoke to a group of Senate Democratic Chiefs of Staff last Friday about the Supercommittee, just days before the Committee announced its failing. “It was kind of weird,” said a longtime Senate Democratic aide, explaining that while people “enjoyed it” and gave it “positive reviews” this sort of thing is far from typical.
A longtime Washington editor who deals with Capitol Hill regularly also said this is not the norm: “”I have never heard of a reporter briefing staffers. It’s supposed to be the other way around. This arrangement seems highly unusual.”
Klein’s speech to high-level Democratic aides was in the Capitol, closed door and off the record. It lasted 30 minutes. “I think they thought it was very helpful,” said the aide. “I think it’s unusual. What’s more common is to get someone like Paul Begala or a White House staffer. To get a journalist to talk is a little unusual.”
But then again, Klein is unusual. In the summer of 2010, his exclusive partisan JournoList, a secretive listserv of some 400 members, collapsed as contents of the exchanges began leaking out. Journalists took hits for their participation, such as then WaPo‘s Dave Weigel, who quickly apologized on the newspaper’s blog for some of what he wrote. He was fired over the matter and is now at Slate. The Daily Caller reported extensively on the offending material. The end result: Klein shut the list down.
Briefings for journalists covering Capitol Hill are usually the reverse of what transpired here. Lawmakers brief reporters. Aides brief reporters. Think tanks brief reporters. Think tanks brief aides. But reporters briefing aides? This is unheard of.
Important questions to have answered: Was Klein strategizing with Democrats on messaging of the Supercommittee’s failure? What exactly was the purpose of the reporter’s speech?
We wrote Klein for comment. While he may refuse to read FishbowlDC, preferring instead to stick to the confines of CJR, his readers need to demand answers from him if they are going to trust the integrity and validity of his journalism. We also wrote WaPo Publicist Kris Coratti to find out what the rules are on these sort of talks and if WaPo was even aware that Klein was giving the speech. She said she’d look into it. That was three hours ago. If we get a statement we’ll bring it to you.
See the email FBDC sent to Ezra after the jump…
Hope you’re headed into a great Thanksgiving holiday and hope you get the wishbone. Wanted to ask you about a briefing you gave to Senate Democratic Chiefs of Staff last Friday. Why were you briefing them? Isn’t a reporter supposed to be briefed by lawmakers and aides, not the other way around? Do you see this as a breach of ethics? If not, how do you see it?