When Reporters Sleep With PR People, Publicists & Sources
It may sound the stuff of political thrillers or salacious television movies, but it does happen. Sometimes the relationships are much more than one and done too. For that reason, most news publications have rules built into their systems that reporters are expected to follow. In the case of the New York Times, reporters are required to notify a responsible newsroom manager about such involvements immediately. The parties meet, and then it depends on each situation how it plays out.
In 2009, Raymond Hernandez, a Washington D.C.-based reporter for the Times verified he was in a relationship with a Congressional spokeswoman. In fact, she worked for a Congressman Hernandez had on his list. The Times reported they had been made aware of it from the beginning. Hernandez has been dating Shrita Sterlin, the communications director for Rep. Edolphus Towns, a Democrat representing parts of Brooklyn including Bedford-Stuyvesant and Fort Greene. As soon as Hernandez reported the relationship, management from the paper and he sat down and worked out a solution. Hernandez kept reporting on all other congressmen on his list but was to have nothing to do with stories about Towns.
No one mentioned when that relationship started, but up until 2008, Hernandez wrote several stories about Towns, some pretty hard-hitting. Then they stopped. The Times continued to report on Towns, just nothing from Hernandez.
And Hernandez is not a singular case. Laura Foreman reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer on a Pennsylvania state senator while having a sexual relationship with him. She was transferred from her DC bureau job for having done so. Former White House correspondent Todd Purdum married Clinton’s White House spokesperson Dee Dee Myers. Jason DeParle, a DC correspondent, married Nancy-Ann Min, who was a staffer at the White House. Hollywood reporter Bernard Weintraub dated Amy Pascal, Sony Pictures chief. And Aaron Sorkin, a screenwriter and author of stories like The Newsroom and West Wing, dated Maureen Dowd, who covers politics for her paper.
Examples abound, but that should not be surprising, many relationships are forged between people who work together in some form or other. If you spend enough time with a person, you’ll probably either build some form of attraction (not necessarily sexual) or grow to simply tolerate them.
But when doing your job has some inherent conflicts of interest in pursuing a romantic or sexual relationship that can become a problem. And not just for the two people. But for their employers, and in the case of reporters, the people reading what they have to say.
The Times and other publishers may have good policies in place, but politics, big government, and big corporations don’t operate on only one level. The tentacle connections to hundreds of other stories are not always as simple to unwind as just not reporting on one person’s activities.