Dislosure: I possess two Obama bumper stickers, one Obama lawn sign, and I did have an Obama campaign button, but I recently gave it to a former student of mine, Abbas Somji, who saw it hanging in my office at Centennial College and coveted it so badly I gave it to him.
Those of you who read this blog will know I got them all when we recently spent time visiting family in Massachussets, where I worked hard to collect these items. And no, I didn’t bring home a single McCain-Palin sign, but honestly I didnt try very hard to find any.
I did put the haul up in my office at the journalism department at Centennial College in November, right on the walls along with my other collected memoribilia and media passes from my days as a foreign correspondent: there are press passes to the Vatican, a tag from a NATO Summit, a Royal Tour in New Brunswick, me on location in Africa and Sicily, my family pictures, calendar, and other mementos of my journalistic life.
One day in November, the Obama lawn sign which i’d pasted on the door, was covered over with white paper. I learned from the students it was done by my colleague Malcolm Kelly of CBC.ca (the coordinator of the new Sports Journalism program here at Centennial).
Yesterday, I asked him why he’d done it. He admonished me that reporters need to keep their personal lives separate from their public ones, so what I did with my Obama lawn sign somehow broke the “code”.
Malcolm’s warning got me to thinking. When I was in journalism school a hundred years ago at Carleton University, I remember clearly being taught that no journalists should be card carrying members of any political organization. That also extended to no posting lawn signs for any one party on your front lawn.
The thinking behind those ethics rules, I’m sure, was so that as a journalist, no one could then accuse you of being one-sided, or slanted in favour of, or against, any political party. Extending that argument, that also meant you could interview anyone from any party, and no one would accuse you of slanting your story to favour the party you were secretly a member of.
And I have really worked hard to keep to that rule professionally ever since. I’ve been able to interview Muslims and Israelis, Mozambique rebels and the government they were fighting, refugees and soldiers, aid workers and soccer stars, Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Greens, Rhino Party members, Joseph Blatter from FIFA, bureaucrats and submarine commanders, even Prince Philip (he grabbed my microphone once and interviewed me during a royal walkabout). No one’s accused me of showing bias in my stories.
Because I still politely refuse to put up a political lawn sign whenever the candidate in my riding comes around.
I don’t vote on line to add my name to Facebook accounts supporting or opposing anything,
I turn down survey phone calls from polling firms,
I don’t attend rallies or protests, even though I’d really really like to. Especially these last few weeks.
I do swear in my kitchen when I hear CUPE’s Sid Ryan on the radio calling Israel “Nazis”. But I don’t add my name to online petitions which are filling up my email box calling for his head.
So why did I put up my treasure trove of Obama in the office at work, and not at home?
Well, partly because I like to collect stuff.
Old typewriters for one thing. They are displayed in my office at work.
So are old pieces of CBC furniture –like the old radio I got, and the old phone operator booth, which is in my office.
It’s hanging on to history.
The Obama material was I think there for similar reasons: wanting to be part of something historic and amazing: the phenomenon that was sweeping America with hope for change. Like anyone who collects ticket stubs or brochures to make a scrap book of their travels: you wanted to be able to have tangible evidence that you had been alive when this happened. That’s also why I collect front pages of newspapers from when big things happened: 9-11, or when the Canadian constitution was repatriated. I keep them for my kids and for myself. Documenting history. Which I think is what –as a journalist –I’ve always been doing on air on on the screen.
So I won’t take down the Obama memoribilia at work, but I will move them off the window, and I will put the bumper stickers in a less visible spot.
Because I still believe it is possible to be a responsible journalist, despite having personal biases and a certain upbringing, as long as you separate public and private as much as you honestly can, when called upon to do a story.
And just for the record, in my personal life I am: Canadian, Jewish, born in Montreal, Anglo, white, female, from the 60s, soccer mom, who is a fanatic viewer of the Tv show “LOST”, is a Leafs fan, loves Juventus and Fiorentina, actually everything Italian, with an extra kidney, who nearly died being mugged in Johannesburg, am a great cook, loves Cheetos, and Luca Toni, and thinks being a journalist is the best calling in the world.