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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Hidden Agendas, Quiet Paydays

Do you ever sense a supposedly objective journalist is hoping for a certain outcome to a story he or she is covering?

Chuck Todd, NBC News’ political director and chief White House correspondent, was openly rooting for President Obama’s re-election last year. Every time I heard Todd, it was always Good Friday for Governor Romney, and Easter Sunday for the president.

But I don’t recall Todd telling NBC’s viewers he had a book in the works on the Obama administration. Instead, was tasked with telling the world Todd was writing a tome, to be published in June 2013. Here’s the Amazon promotional blurb: “In UNTITLED ON PRESIDENT OBAMA, Chuck Todd draws upon his unprecedented inner-circle sources to create a gripping account of Obama’s tumultuous first term and campaign to win another. And not only does he give us the most revealing portrait of this fascinating president and his struggles, Todd also seeks to define what ‘Obamism’ really is, what the president stands for, and how his decisions have changed—and will change—American politics for generations.”  

Look, no one is completely objective, and it is clearly difficult for Todd to criticize people who are implementing policies Todd favors, or to cause trouble for folks who provide him access to sensitive information. Yet a degree of objectivity is precisely what voters needed in 2012 from NBC News, and they weren’t getting it from Todd because he stood to gain personally and professionally from another four years with this president in office.

PBS’s Gwen Ifill faced comparable criticism during the 2008 election cycle before Ifill moderated that year’s vice presidential debate between U.S. Senator Joseph Biden and Governor Sarah Palin. The Republicans rightfully asked how Ifill could be an honest broker when she was working during her off hours on a project that would become February 2009’s The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. The book was built not only around the president’s career, but also those of three other Democrats who held elective office at the time: Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker and an Alabama Congressman who has since become a Republican so he’ll never again be on Ifill’s radar unless he becomes a GOP vice presidential nominee.

Closer to home, did you know the New York Post’s Albany bureau chief, Fred Dicker, who has distinguished himself as an unrepentant admirer of Governor Cuomo, is writing a biography about his favorite politician, with the cooperation of the governor’s staff? News Corporation is obviously comfortable with this arrangement because News Corp. owns both The New York Post and HarperCollins, the publisher that signed Dicker to write the book.

Still, a New York Post reader has reason to wonder whether some state governmental or political stories are being held for the book, rather than being written about when Dicker first learns of them. News Corp. doesn’t care because whatever information Dicker gathers and shares with readers will be distributed through an outlet the company controls.  

City & State offered a highly critical take on Dicker’s Cuomo biography last year when the deal was first announced, polling its readers on what the book’s title should be. The winning entry is one I won’t repeat because the second most-popular choice seems a more likely assessment of the final product: The Greatest Governor in the History of Time: How One Man Changed Albany, and Then the World.


Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: