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The Kaplan-Clinton Connection

(AP)
Rick Kaplan, the new executive producer of the "Evening News," is a longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Newsbusters, which bills itself as "exposing and combating liberal media bias," has seized on the connection. The implication in their coverage is that Kaplan will not be able to cover Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in a fair way.

Kaplan addressed his Clinton connections with the Philadelphia Inquirer's Gail Shister. "I've got a 38-year track record," Kaplan said. "I find it astounding that this is an issue for anyone since it's never come up in my career. There's no smoke there...You could hoist me up and skewer me if there's any truth to that at all."

Kaplan pointed out that he is also a friend of John McCain. "If you're around long enough, you get to know everybody," he said.

Kaplan slept in the Clinton White House twice. After the second occasion, in April 2000, he told USA Today's Peter Johnson, "I do not feel embarrassed, ashamed or compromised in any way, shape or form."

"Everyone has relationships," he added. "We met each other before either of us knew we'd amount to anything. He doesn't expect anything from me, and I don't expect anything from him."

The question of whether Kaplan can oversee fair coverage of Bill and Hillary Clinton goes to the heart of the debate about media bias. Most journalists today feel they can put both their personal and political feelings aside when the time comes to do their jobs. They may like or dislike a politician or his policies, but they believe they can provide unbiased, objective coverage regardless of their feelings.

Critics, meanwhile, charge that such a separation is impossible. They believe that if you agree with the politics of a certain politician, that's going to be reflected in your coverage, even if you don't want it to be. And that goes double if you're friends with that politician – how can you separate your personal feelings from your professional obligation?

To some extent, casting this as an issue simply having to do with Kaplan is missing the point. As the "Scooter" Libby trial helped illustrate, the media and political elite are intertwined in ways that make those who value an independent press corps uneasy. These connections can help journalists because they give them access and allow them to stay plugged in. But they also stoke fears that such relationships will cause journalists to pull their punches.

For what it's worth, I believe that Kaplan is capable of covering the Clintons fairly, just as I think most reporters can separate their personal and political beliefs from their coverage. Relationships like these do create a perception problem, however, and provide ammunition to partisan critics who are ready to assume the worst about the mainstream media. We don't yet know what Kaplan is going to do on the "Evening News." I think it's only fair to wait to see the journalistic product before coming to any conclusions.

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