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Candidate Shaw would face ethical questions

July 27, 1993

State tradition well-established

By Jim Camden
The Spokesman-Review

If KHQ-TV anchor Randy Shaw decides to run for political office, he’ll be following a well-established Washington political tradition.

In the last 30 years, well-known newspaper and television journalists have run for everything from Spokane mayor to the U.S. Senate. They’ve won some races and lost others.

After Shaw’s potential candidacy was reported last week in The Spokesman-Review, the longtime television journalist received calls urging him to run and even some money in the mail.

“I would appreciate it if people would not do that,” he said. “I have to send the money back.”

Accepting campaign contributions is a sure sign of candidacy, and Shaw says he’s not at that stage.

While Shaw is merely thinking about the run for Congress, his potential candidacy poses tough ethical questions for the longtime television newsman and his station.

“It’s a very unusual situation he finds himself in,” said former U.S. Rep. Rod Chandler, a onetime news anchor. “He’s kind of in that gray area.”

That gray area is partly a result of the deliberative process any serious candidate takes. No one goes to bed one night uninterested in politics and wakes up the next morning deciding to run for office.

It’s also a result of the difference between federal law – which governs the activities of candidates in black-and-white – and journalism ethics, which are debated among members of the profession.

“The law is kind of the lowest ethical standard,” said Lee Wilkins, associate dean of the University of Missouri, who teaches ethics at the nation’s oldest journalism school.

Journalists who have become candidates have handled the process differently.

Chandler was the anchor at Seattle’s KOMO-TV when he began considering a run for the state Senate, a part-time position. He asked the station if he could switch to a part-time job in sales if he ran for the Legislature. The station said no; he quit and took a job at Washington Mutual Bank, which had a policy of allowing employees to work at the bank while serving in the Legislature.

Rep. Al Swift moved back and forth from television to serving as a congressional press aide before deciding to run for Congress. But Swift was the press spokesman for incumbent Lloyd Meeds when he ran for office.

The late Ron Bair had been the anchor at KXLY before being mayor in 1977. Bair quit his anchor job to devote full time to his travel agency months before he decided on very short notice to run for mayor.

Dorothy Powers, longtime columnist for The Spokesman-Review, took a leave of absence the day she announced her campaign against Rep. Tom Foley in 1966. But during the previous two months, a steering committee was drumming up support for Powers while she continued to write a column which was personal, not political.

FCC rules require any broadcaster to come off the air when he or she becomes a candidate, which also includes filing for office or announcing a campaign.

But those rules don’t cover the time when political candidates are approaching that decision.

Shaw said his personal code of ethics would kick in the moment he decides he will run.

“I do have other (career) options,” he said. “I would never be in a situation where I had made up my mind, and be on the air.”

Until that time, both Shaw and his superiors at KHQ said they see no problem with his continuing normal duties.

But both face a potential conflict of interest, say journalism ethics experts, if he interviews Foley, who holds the seat Shaw could seek.

“In the anchor role, people expect him to be free of entanglements,” said Roger Simpson, who teaches journalism ethics at the University of Washington.

There also is an appearance of a conflict of interest for Shaw, some experts said, because he identified himself as a conservative journalist and criticized the federal government in a recent speech to a local chapter of United We Stand, the political group that grew out of Ross Perot’s candidacy.

“I think it’s unprofessional for a journalist to announce his or her political leanings,” said Deni Elliott, the Mike Mansfield Professor of Ethics and Public Affairs at the University of Montana.

A television station should no more have a self-described conservative who has criticized Congress reporting on federal issues than have a self-proclaimed liberal who espouses abortion rights covering abortion, Elliott said.

Chandler said he believes Shaw should decline to do stories about Foley or Congress.

Neither Shaw nor his bosses see the situation that way.

“He’s a professional,” said news director Patricia McRae. “He will go out and do his job.”

Shaw said he doesn’t agree with those who say journalists must be objective. The standard is being fair, he said.

“We’re not clinical, we’re not robots,” he said. “You get a better story if you bring a sense of outrage to it.”

He has refused to stories about which he has a strong opinion. As a resort owner, he also refuses to do stories about resorts.

He won’t refuse to interview Foley if the occasion arises.

“He is the representative of this district and I’m going to ask him the questions I believe are important for this district,” Shaw said.

A spokesman for Foley said the congressman wouldn’t refuse to be interviewed by Shaw until the anchorman decided to be a candidate.

“He isn’t going to go back and exclude one of the three stations in Spokane,” said press aide Jeff Biggs.

Tuesday, July 27, 1993

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