NBC's Gregory: Knowledge of Journalist Votes Would Compromise Reporting

     Wouldn’t it be nice to know how members of the White House press corps voted in the last presidential election in order to know where they’re coming from in their reporting?


     NBC White House correspondent David Gregory, who appeared at the Sixth and I Synagogue in Washington, D.C. to discuss the ethics of political leadership on June 12, was posed that question by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, an author and Jewish scholar.


     “Why shouldn’t people know the person who is reporting on [President George W.] Bush, say – didn’t like Bush?” Telushkin asked.


     Gregory responded by saying that knowledge, not the journalist’s ideology, would “slant their coverage” and people should be assured journalists abide by governing principles, even if they’re not explicitly stated.


     “Because there’s a presumption because you know how that journalist voted, that it slants their coverage – which people may believe it or not believe it, there are governing principles that encompass the question about whether a journalist has ethics,” Gregory said. “[I]t’s an interesting question because there is not an ethical code that governs journalists in the way there is for a doctor or a lawyer.”


     Gregory has been accused of his own partisanship in the past. In December 2006, former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow challenged Gregory for trying to frame questions about the Iraq Study Group “in a partisan way.” Snow, however, apologized to Gregory a week later.


      Gregory, who is Jewish, admitted he has had ethical struggles in the past and has relied on the Jewish law on speech to guide him in his editorial decision making for his MSNBC daily afternoon show “Race for the White House.”


      “Something had happened where it somehow reminded me of Bill Clinton,” Gregory said. “It had something to do with Jeremiah Wright and it reminded me of the fact that Bill Clinton had had this gathering of a prayer group, where Jeremiah Wright was, where he said, ‘I don’t have a fancy way to say that I have sinned.’ And I said to my producer, ‘This is perfect! We can use this. This is Bill Clinton talking while Jeremiah Wright was in room.”


     Gregory was referring to a September 1998 prayer breakfast at the White House that surfaced after Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the pastor of presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama’s (Ill.) former church, had made derogatory comments about former President Bill Clinton and former Democratic presidential contender Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.). Bill Clinton was in attendance and was photographed with Wright. However, Gregory declined to use it.


     “I stopped,” Gregory said. “I had just come from my study session and said, ‘No, that would be oppressive to remind Bill Clinton of his past on my program. And so, I elected not to play that sound byte because I wanted to, you know, try to take a little high ground.”


     According to Jewish Law, it is a sin discredit or say negative thing about a person, even if they are true, a sin called lashon ha-ra. Gregory said using that for his show would have compromised those religious and moral guidelines.


     Gregory also discussed the rise of other competing media. He told the audience the expansion of the new media – talk radio, 24-hour cable news channels and the Internet – had been bad for society.


     “As a culture and a society, we’re very judgmental,” Gregory said. “We want to engage in debate,” Gregory said. “And I think it is fed on airwaves … Our political discourse has become more corrosive because they’re less open to other points-of-view. And, so we have a lot of self-reinforcing media, whether it’s right-wing talk radio, and then there’s left-wing talk radio, although not as successful as right-wing talk radio. But, there’s elements in the media that are more liberal. They’re finding a new voice and a big audience.”


     He noted that people are clinging to their own “point-of-view” instead of exploring for others.


     “So many people among us are seeking out their point-of-view, they’re not seeking out different points-of-view,” Gregory said. “They’re seeking out their own point-of-view and that leads to more judgment.”