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Rick Stengel Is at Least the 24th Journalist to Work for the Obama Administration
Time managing editor Rick Stengel (pictured above) is leaving journalism to go work for the State Department, making him at least the 15th 21st23rd 24th reporter to go to work for the Obama administration. Stengel will be the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs,Politico and Capital New York report. The last high-profile journalist to leave Time for the Obama administration is Jay Carney, who is currently White House press secretary (pictured at right). Update:Thanks to a few tipsters, we’ve updated with a bigger count. They’re listed below.
A wave of reporters went to work for President Obama early in the administration, a time when many media organizations were going through layoffs and Obama’s approval rating was sky-high. The flow has tapered off since then. The Washington Post‘s Ed O’Keefe has semi-regularly kept tabs on the number of reporters working for Obama administration, counting 10 in May 2009, 14 in 2010, and 13 in 2011. The Washington Examiner‘s Paul Beddard counted 19 reporters working for “Team Obama” in February 2012, but he included liberal advocacy groups as part of the “team.”
Keeping track of how many reporters went to work under President Obama is tricky. Do you count those who had some other job in between reporting and the Obama administration? (Former TV reporter Beverley Lumpkin worked for the Project on Government Oversight before joining the Justice Department in 2011.) What about someone who went to work for George W. Bush, and kept his job under Obama? (Former ABC reporter Geoff Morrell went to work for the Defense Department in 2007.) Here’s a non-exhaustive list of journalists who switched to working for the government. Our updated count includes people like Lumpkin and Morrell, plus new additions:
- Earlier this month, Douglas Frantz went to work for the State Department, too, as assistant secretary of state for public affairs. Frantz took a couple spins through the revolving door between the media and the executive branch, the Huffington Post noted. For decades, Frantz reported for publications like The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times until 2009, when he got a job as an investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which was chaired by then-Sen. John Kerry. In May 2012, Frantz got a job as The Washington Post‘s national security editor.
- Boston Globe online politics editor Glen Johnson went to work for Secretary of State John Kerry in January as a senior adviser.
- In February 2012, Stephen Barr went to work for the Labor Department as senior managing directorof the Office of Public Affairs. Barr had written the Federal Diary column for The Washington Post, which he retired from in 2008.
- The Washington Post‘s Shailagh Murray became Vice President Joe Biden’s communications directorin March 2011.
- Rosa Brooks, an author who was a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, was counselor to Michele Flournoy, the undersecretary of defense for policy, from April 2009 to July 2011. Brooks now writes for Foreign Policy.
- In February 2010, Desson Thomson went to work as a speechwriter for the U.S. ambassador to the U.K., Louis Susman. Thomson had been a film critic for The Washington Post until 2008.
- Roberta Baskin, who worked as a TV journalist and ran the Center for Public Integrity, went to work for the Department of Health and Human Services in August 2009 as a senior communications adviser.
- Washington Post Outlook section deputy editor Warren Bass went to work for then-UN ambassador Susan Rice in January 2009 as director of speechwriting and senior policy adviser. He now works for the RAND Corporation.
- Education Week reporter David Hoff went to work for the Education Department in May 2009.
- Sasha Johnson, who worked for CNN as a senior political producer, became a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation in May 2009, and, recently moved to be the chief of staff for the Federal Aviation Administration.
- The Chicago Tribune‘s Jill Zuckman became the Department of Transportation’s communications director in February 2009. She was a commentator on MSNBC last year.
- Rick Weiss left The Washington Post to work for the Center for American Progress, then in March 2009 moved to be the communications director and senior policy strategist in the White House Office of Science and Technology.
Update: A few people have written in with names we’d overlooked:
- Former CBS and ABC reporter Linda Doulglass started working for the Obama campaign in May 2008. She was then communications director for the White House Office of Health Reform until June 2010. She then worked for the Atlantic Media as communications chief until June of this year.
- New York Times reporter Eric Dash joined the Treasury Department’s public affairs office in 2012.
- As did MSNBC producer Anthony Reyes.
- Aneesh Raman left CNN to work for Obama’s 2008 campaign. He’s now a speechwriter for Obama.
- CNN national security correspondent Jim Sciutto worked as chief of staff for U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke from 2011 to September 2013.
- San Francisco Chronicle reporter Kelly Zito, who covered the environment, went to work for theEPA’s public affairs office in August 2011.
- We overlooked an obvious one: Samantha Power made her name as a journalist covering genocide before working for Obama when he was still a senator. She’s now Obama’sambassador to the United Nations.
Time’s Stengel latest in long line of reporters who jumped to jobs in Obama administration
By Paul Farhi and Billy Kenber, Published: September 25 E-mail the writer
As it happens, Carney was an early adopter. He was among the first of what has turned out to be a parade of journalists who’ve turned in their press badges for work in the Obama administration. In a trend that has raised some eyebrows among Obama’s critics, at least 20 reporters and editors from mainstream news organizations have taken high-profile positions in the administration within the past five years.
The latest hire: Richard Stengel, Time magazine’s managing editor (and Carney’s former boss). Obama nominated Stengel last week to be the State Department’s undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, a top communications post. Stengel will succeed Tara Sonenshine, another journalist (ABC News, Newsweek) who became part of the government she once covered.
At State, Stengel can swap newsroom stories with Samantha Power, a former journalist (U.S. News, the Boston Globe, the New Republic) who is now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. His staff will include Desson Thomson, a former Washington Post movie critic who became a speechwriter for Hillary Rodham Clinton when she served as secretary of state. Other colleagues will include two recent additions to Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s staff: Glen Johnson, a longtime political reporter and editor at the Boston Globe, and Douglas Frantz, a reporter and editor who has worked for the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and, most recently, The Post. Frantz was also briefly an investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Kerry, then a senator from Massachusetts.
Every administration draws in a few journalists, typically as speechwriters and press secretaries, a natural given the overlapping skills. A young reporter named Diane Sawyer went to work in Richard Nixon’s press operation in 1970, eventually helping Nixon write his memoirs. Tony Snow, the late columnist and Fox News host, wrote speeches for George H.W. Bush and served as the press secretary for George W. Bush from 2006 to 2007.
Edward R. Murrow, the legendary CBS anchor and perhaps the most famous newsman in America at the time, headed President John F. Kennedy’s U.S. Information Agency, overseeing the U.S. government’s broadcasts around the world.
But Obama may be different in terms of the sheer number of ink-stained wretches and other news-media denizens that he has attracted. Even before he was in office, his campaign had hired former CBS and ABC News correspondent Linda Douglass as a senior strategist. Douglass went on to serve as the communications chief for the White House Office of Health Reform before leaving in 2010.
The pattern of Obama hires has periodically aroused suspicions about the media’s allegedly cozy relationship with the president. Prompted by Stengel’s appointment last week, conservative radio titan Rush Limbaugh commented on his program, “There’s an incestuous relationship that exists between the Washington press corps and any Democrat administration. . . . Journalists are simply leftists disguised as reporters. They’re political activists disguised as reporters. That’s all they are, and this is just the latest example.”
Journalists who’ve become former journalists say it’s a lot more complicated than that.
Jill Zuckman, who was a seasoned political correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, says she joined Team Obama (as head of public affairs at the Transportation Department) in February 2009 primarily because aRepublican, Rep. Ray LaHood (Ill.), had been appointed to run it.
“I probably would not have done it without a professional relationship with Ray LaHood,” says Zuckman, who had covered LaHood when he was a congressional staff member in the early 1990s. “He was one of my favorite members of Congress. I thought he was smart, frank and plugged in. I thought I could help him” in his new job.
Zuckman, who left Transportation in 2011 to join a communications firm run by Democrats Anita Dunn and Hillary Rosen, denies any tilt for Obama or Democrats while she was a journalist. “I was a straightforward reporter,” she said. “I had good relationships with Republicans as well as Democrats.”
Carney makes no secret of his loyalties to Obama now but defends his objectivity and professionalism as a journalist when he covered candidate Obama and Washington generally. “I was definitely excited by and privately supported Obama in 2008,” he said. “But I think any reading of my coverage as a reporter would show that I was not an ideologue. [Time columnist] Joe Klein said he thought I was a Republican” when Carney joined Biden’s staff.
What’s more, the news business’s financial troubles have played a significant role in driving journalists onto the job market. The Obama administration came in as the Great Recession worsened what already had been a bad slump for traditional media outlets. Since then, mainstream news organizations have shed thousands of jobs.
“The news business was going south,” says Thomson, who accepted a buyout from The Post in 2008 after 25 years at the paper. “We are at a time when reinvention is the new black. And in 2008, that’s what was in front of me, to reinvent.”
(Thomson and Frantz are among the cadre of former Post journalists who have found second careers in federal Washington. Others include former city editor Bill Miller, now a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Washington, and former political reporter Shailagh Murray, who replaced Carney as Biden’s communications czar in 2011.)
Peter Gosselin, an economics reporter at the Los Angeles Times, became Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner’s chief speechwriter in 2009, just a few weeks after the Times’s parent, Tribune Co., filed for bankruptcy-court protection. “I couldn’t trust that I’d be able to support two kids through school, and in a few years going to college, on the chance that [newspapers] were not going to collapse,” Gosselin said.
Journalists who became Obama operatives speak highly of the experience. Although they say the office “culture” is wholly different — more collaborative, less geared to a newsroom’s individual star system — the job can be no less rewarding.
“I’m liking it a great deal,” said Thomson. “From the State Department’s point of view, the world is the ultimate canvas and the U.S. role in the world is as big a subject as it gets. . . . You go from outsider to insider, but that doesn’t mean you stop using the skills you applied to journalism.”
Zuckman, who oversaw the Transportation Department’s communications efforts during Toyota’s massive recalls of vehicles to fix a problem with sudden acceleration, said her stint at the agency gave her an appreciation for the hard, fast and complicated work that government employees do. Working for the agency, she said, “turned out to be one of the great experiences of my life.”
But Gosselin advised those who are considering such a switch to think twice.
“What astounded me was what a sleek, well-oiled, 21st-century machine a newsroom looks like compared to the way it works inside government,” he said. “The cultures are really, really different, particularly at high levels,” he added, citing the “messy” government decision-making process in which dozens of people get a say.
After working for Geithner and as a special adviser for health reform at the Department of Health and Human Services, Gosselin is now a senior health-care policy analyst for Bloomberg Government, a news and information source. Which makes him part of an even smaller fraternity: those who’ve made a full revolution through the revolving door between reporting and government.
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