Monday, January 16, 2006

Michele Jacklin Crosses the Bar

The announcement that appeared in the Hartford Courant was brief and modest, a little less than 150 words, five famished paragraphs: Michele Jacklin, former reporter, columnist and editorial board member had left the paper and joined the gubernatorial campaign of current Bridgeport Mayor John DeStefano as Director of Policy and Research.

Other journalists have passed the bar dividing journalism and politics without damage to their careers. Pat Buchanan, initially connected with Richard Nixon, has passed over and under the bar several times; George Stephanopoulos moved effortlessly from Bill Clinton’s campaigns to become a television commentator; and closer to home, Charlie Morse, once the Courant’s chief political columnist, appropriately ended his career at the paper by joining the campaign of Lowell Weicker, an ideological soul mate.

Some political watchers were mildly stunned by Jacklin’s move; not because she had passed through the revolving door that connects journalism and politics, but because she did not end up as a staffer on rival Democrat Dan Malloy’s gubernatorial campaign

When DeStefano claimed that he was the stronger gubernatorial candidate because he had won re-election by a larger margin than Malloy, Jacklin, in one of her last Courant columns, rushed to Malloy’s defense: “To suggest as DeStefeno did,” that he's the stronger of the two because he won by a larger margin is preposterous. DeStefano's candicacy is headed for trouble if he persists in taking us, and Malloy, for fools.”

Let us pause for a moment and ask prayerfully: What is the import of the word “us” in Jacklin’s challenge to DeStefano?

Political columnists are not used to hiding their lights under baskets, and it was widely known among journalist insiders that Jacklin had in her column been supporting Malloy, whose campaign is top-heavy with staff that drifed into their jobs from Bill Curry’s previous attempts to make Connecticut safe for property tax reform. Jacklin would have been much at home among Roy Occhiogrosso, a campaign battle scarred barroom brawler associated with the Global Strategy Group. The group is a New York based company that maintains a pilot operation in Hartford. Occhiogrosso’s colleagues are Kathleen Curry, Bill Currry’s sister, former television journalists Duby McDowell, Curry’s 1994 campaign manager Betsy O’Neill and Global's New York-based founder and pollster Jefrey Pollock.

Like heaven, the Democrat Party has many mansions. Only on blog sites have the relevant questions been asked. Both DeStefano and Malloy would have been happy to provide Jacklin a safe harbor in the storm that appears to have overtaken the Courant. The paper, now a part of a large chain, has been under pressure to lighten its staff. Why then, since Jacklin’s sympathies seemed to lie with Malloy, did she accept a spot on the DeStefano campaign? And does the open door between journalism and politics present any problems at all?

Various answers to the first question are in circulation on some blog sites. Perhaps the DeStefano campaign made Jacklin a money offer that could not be met by the Malloy campaign. When companies throw their employees out of the plane, they do not often provide sufficient financial parachutes. Other more cynical heads think Jacklin may be a sapper, a friend of the friends of Malloy tunneling beneath the DeStefano campaign in an attempt to undermine it. Considering her communication skills, one frequently visited blogmeister noted, Jacklin might have performed better as a communications director, but then that slot might have raised questions in the journalistic community centering on the overarching question: What did DeStefano buy when he hired Jacklin?

He bought a lobbyist, one blog commentator noted. Just as business lobbyists serve as intermediaries between corporations and legislatures, so do hired journalists serve as liaisons between the journalistic community and political campaigns. The DeStefano campaign could not hire Jacklin as a press liaison because lobbying activity always occurs in the twilight. Connections must be indirect, subtle and nuanced. The unsubtle lobbyist who is identified purely and simply as a business agent is half undone. The effective lobbyists’ whole effort is directed at convincing legislators that he represents a broad non-partisan interest. That is also the mission of journalists who seek to conceal their partisanship.

On this view, Jacklin has made a wise career choice in joining the DeStefano campaign.
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