Linda Douglass Back in Media

Howie Kurtz titles yesterday’s Media Notes column “Linda Douglass, former Obama aide, rejoins mainstream media.” But it’s actually a bit more complicated than that.

Linda Douglass, the veteran network correspondent who became President Obama’s chief health care spokeswoman, is heading back to journalism.

She is joining the Atlantic as a vice president at a time when David Bradley’s media operation is attempting something of a digital transformation — and hiring no fewer than 30 journalists for National Journal.

“My role is helping the company get the visibility and recognition it deserves,” says Douglass, who left the Obama administration two months ago. “It is chock-full of smart analysts and great writers. We have a chance to play a really important role in the Washington conversation.”  Bradley says Douglass will concentrate on company strategy and communications — joining his “senior cabinet” — in an effort to “build up the brand names” of both his magazines and their writers. In the past, he says, “it was perfectly fine being something all your grandparents read. but for getting attention, getting links, attracting talent, it looks like famous now matters.”

Well, this isn’t “journalism” so much as flackery.  Which is what she did for Obama.    But there are some questions:

While her political tenure “troubles me not at all” for the corporate part of the job, Bradley says, he sees a “blinking red light” when she gets involved with the journalistic side, especially as it involves the president or health care. But, adds Bradley, “she’s too big an editorial talent for us to keep her out of the editorial product.”

Douglass says any editorial role is “very much up in the air” but that her experience helps: “I’ve had the good fortune to see the media operate from all sides. I’m not assigning reporters’ stories and telling them how to write them.”

While I understand Brent Baker‘s objections — she’s clearly pro-Obama, after all — it’s hardly unprecedented for journalists to do stints in presidential administrations.   Diane Sawyer, currently the ABC  Nightly News anchor, did a stint in the Nixon administration and such luminaries as George Stephanoupolos, Chris Matthews, David Gergen, and the late Tim Russell served presidents or high profile legislators.

So far as I’m concerned, it’s not really a problem so long as  the reader/viewer is well aware of the conflict.   Indeed, there’s some real value to having some small fraction of the media having first person insight into how the process works.  And a full disclosure policy is almost certainly better than the false objectivity of the “view from nowhere” model.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.