Beach Blanket Bingo

Veep’s party revives age-old ethical debate

One of the classic ethical questions in journalism—how much distance should a reporter keep from his sources and subjects?—is back in the news this week, propelled by a backyard “beach party” hosted by Vice President Joe Biden for White House staffers and D.C. journalists. The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder kicked off the discussion with a pair of posts explaining why he decided to attend. “A bunch of really good, hardened, news-breaking, interest-accountable holding reporters are in fact able to share more comfortable moments with people they cover,” Ambinder wrote, while acknowledging the explanation wouldn’t satisfy all critics.

He was right about that. Frequent press critic Glenn Greenwald declared that “all of this just helpfully reveals what our nation’s leading ‘journalists’ really are: desperate worshipers of political power who are far more eager to be part of it and to serve it than to act as adversarial checks against it.”

It’s worth noting that the challenges here aren’t unique to Washington: they can occur in any community in which journalists interact socially with powerful people, which is to say most communities. But to push this debate forward a bit, we want to know: Is there an argument to be made that going to a function like this could actually be journalistically beneficial? And for the working journos out there: If you were invited to an equivalent event in the town/city/state you cover, would you attend, and why?

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.