Times Suddenly Concerned About Journalists at Partisan Political Events

The Times raised its eyebrow at libertarian journalist John Stossel for upcoming speeches at a conservative forum - yet Linda Greenhouse, the paper's Supreme Court reporter for almost two decades, was an outspoken pro-choice marcher who covered abortion issues without stirring concerns of conflict at the Times.

Media reporter Brian Stelter's Metro section story on Wednesday, "Newsman to Speak at Events of Group Opposed to Health Care Plan," tackled the apparent journalistic no-no of John Stossel, the libertarian journalist who recently moved to Fox Business from ABC News.

Stelter suggested that Stossel's scheduled appearance in front of a conservative group is a rare foray of a journalist into a partisan political event that vindicates the White House's attacks on Fox News.

John Stossel, the newest star of the Fox Business Network, is also starring this week at a series of events orchestrated by opponents of a Democratic health care overhaul.

On Thursday Mr. Stossel is expected to speak at three forums hosted by Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group, in three cities. The group's Web site says Mr. Stossel and others will "debate solutions and discuss the dangers of government-forced health care" at the forums.

The unusual appearances come at a time when the sister network to Fox Business, the Fox News Channel, is facing fierce criticism from the White House and its allies. In recent days critics have leaped on Mr. Stossel's speaking engagements as the latest evidence of conservative bias on the part of Fox, a unit of the News Corporation. The Obama administration has cast the network as a part of the political opposition.

Most news organizations discourage participation at partisan political events. In its publicity material for the forums, Americans for Prosperity identifies Mr. Stossel a "veteran journalist." But Fox says Mr. Stossel is not a part of its hard news division; rather, he is an analyst and host.

In its responses to the White House and other critics, Fox has said there are differences between its journalists and its opinion program hosts. But the Obama administration and others have asserted that those lines are regularly blurred.

Stelter put the burden on Fox News to justify not being attacked by the full force of the White House:

Greg Sargent, a blogger for the Web site whorunsgov.com, a Washington Post Company Web site, wrote last week that Mr. Stossel would be effectively working "as a political activist" by attending the forums, and said it "doesn't seem like great timing" given Fox's feud with the White House.

Mark Feldstein, an associate professor of journalism at the George Washington University, said the relationship between Mr. Stossel and a partisan group was "pretty shameful" by traditional journalistic standards. "But I guess we're no longer in an age of tradition," he said.

One journalist not mentioned: Former Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse, who marched in a pro-choice rally in April 1989. According to a contemporaneous story in the Washington Post, Greenhouse was unaware Times policy states that "staff members avoid employment or any undertakings, obligations, relationships or investments that create or appear to create a conflict of interest with their professional work for the Times."

And, in June 2006, Greenhouse ripped the Bush administration to shreds at a Harvard address, claiming "our government had turned its energy and attention away from upholding the rule of law and toward creating law-free zones at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, and other places around the world. And let's not forget the sustained assault on women's reproductive freedom and the hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism."

Yet Greenhouse continued to cover abortion issues for the Times until her retirement in 2008.