With a competitive congressional race in progress, WBZ-TV political analyst Jon Keller has covered the Fifth District special election for the nightly news, gone one on one with the candidates for “Keller @ Large” interviews, and dissected the race for WBZ radio. But until this week, Keller never disclosed to his broadcast audience that his son, Barney, works as the campaign spokesman for the Republican candidate, Jim Ogonowski.
Journalism professors were not impressed.
Several journalism professors told the Globe that Keller appeared to have lapsed in not disclosing his son’s role each time he discussed the race and that he should have considered staying out of coverage of the race altogether.
“That’s impermissible,” said Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism at Columbia University. He called it “a matter of elementary disclosure, to take the time to explain that one is connected.”
Lou Ureneck, chairman of the journalism department at Boston University, agreed. Avoiding the appearance of conflict or potential conflict is as important as avoiding actual conflict or bias, he said, “because it goes to the credibility of the news organization.”
Jon and his bosses are apparently of the view that disclosing the relationship on Keller’s blog was enough. But if the point of disclosure is to, you know, disclose, then it’s hard to see how just doing it on the blog can suffice. I’d wager that no more than a tiny percentage of WBZ’s viewers also check Jon’s blog, or even know that it exists, so the vast majority of TV viewers remained unaware of the situation. He should have just disclosed the relationship routinely and let the viewers and readers make up their minds.
But here’s the best line of the article:
Keller said he was unfamiliar with the academic distinction between bias and apparent or possible bias. “I guess I missed a class that day,” he said.
Yeah, I guess so.