In a column out today, the Pulitzer-Prize willing Cleveland Plain Dealer and Newhouse News Service columnist writes that she decided to take a sabbatical while her husband, Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown, runs for a U.S. Senate seat.
"I still want to write about what's on my mind, but that is becoming increasingly difficult," she writes. "Each passing week brings more limitations in my choice of topics because there is a concern that some will accuse me of using my column to stump for my husband."
Schultz writes that she is "sensitive to even the appearance of conflict" and "keenly aware of the difficulties my remaining in this job could create for my colleagues who must cover the Senate race." She also says the decision was all her own:
This is my decision. No one asked me to do this now: not Plain Dealer editor Doug Clifton, not a single colleague, not my husband. I made this decision after doing what I taught my children to do: Take the stomach test. Go sit somewhere quiet, imagine all your options, and see what feels right in your gut.I think you'd be hard pressed to find many people who don't think that Schultz did the right thing here. Aside from heading off (or at least limiting) a whole slew of "Sherron Brown is in bed with the press!" jokes, she sidestepped the ethical dilemmas that were bound to emerge as the campaign progressed. Can you imagine if Laura Bush had an opinion column in the Washington Post where she was expected to weigh in on matters of policy? Well, yeah, me neither, but you get the point: When you're an opinion columnist married to a high profile politician, particularly one running who's for office, it becomes much harder to do your job well. Could Schultz write a column critical of one of her husband's positions in the run-up to the election because it was what she believed? Could she endorse his opponent if she thought he'd do a better job? Perhaps. But it's a whole lot harder to do so when you could very well be damaging the career of your significant other.
A more difficult ethical question will be what Schultz should do if her husband wins. These issues won't go away, after all. One can't expect Schultz to give up her career, but the more successful her husband becomes, the more and more difficult it will be for people to see her as an independent commentator. Should Schultz perhaps vow to cover topics that are no more than tangentially political? Or should she just assert that she's an honest enough commentator not to let her husband's political career corrupt her, critics be damned?