I doubt this will present any conflicts in my blogging here or my work for Digital First Media, but I believe in disclosing potential conflicts. So I’ll disclose (as I’ve done a couple times before) that my oldest son, Mike, is the former chief of staff for Chuck Hagel, who was nominated today by President Barack Obama to be Secretary of Defense.
Mike’s first job out of college was in Hagel’s Senate press office, and he worked for Hagel seven years (with a year off to work on a political campaign), from 2000 to 2008, chief of staff for nearly the last year. Mike remains a good friend of Hagel’s and they talk regularly. Update: Mike was on CNN this morning, discussing Hagel’s nomination and confirmation.
I don’t know the senator well myself, though he has been friendly when we’ve met, and we have an autographed copy of his book, America, Our Next Chapter.
When I was a reporter for the Omaha World-Herald, my editors and I sought to avoid conflicts, but were not always successful. I would never write stories that were primarily about Hagel, but if a story I was working on turned out to have a Senate angle where we needed a comment from Hagel, I would give my editors a heads-up. They never called me off a story but I would call someone other than Mike to seek the quote. Of course, that arm’s-length effort became kind of silly when I would get Hagel on the phone and he’d start with some sort of humorous remark about Mike.
I once played a key role in coverage of a visit to Omaha by President George W. Bush, unaware when I agreed to the assignment (though I should have thought of it and checked) that Hagel (and perhaps Mike; I can’t recall) would be accompanying the president. After that, I asked out of coverage of future Bush visits.
In the 2004 presidential campaign, my editors asked if it would be OK to cover Bush campaigning in Iowa (as a swing state, Iowa gets lots of campaign stops, but Nebraska is solid Republican, so neither party’s candidates visit often). I said OK and was assigned to cover a Bush rally in Iowa. While Hagel wasn’t at the rally, I learned from Mike that he and the Senator were stumping in Iowa for Bush the day before. (Though Hagel’s criticism of Bush got lots of attention, he did co-chair Bush’s Nebraska re-election effort and agreed to help in Iowa, where the race was much closer.) Anyway, after that, I told my editors I wasn’t comfortable with any more Bush assignments.
I left Omaha in 2005 and Hagel left the Senate after deciding not to seek re-election in 2008. Mike now works in the private sector in the Twin Cities. But now Hagel’s back in the news and I will again seek to avoid conflicts (and it should be easier).
I play no direct role in Digital First’s coverage of politics or the military. In emergencies, though, I could conceivably be pressed into service to help with coverage of national political or military news (I was scheduled to help with election coverage until the death of my nephew the day before the election). I have informed the appropriate DFM editors of my relationship with Hagel, and we agree that I will steer clear of any role in coverage of his confirmation or of the Pentagon if he is confirmed.
Because most of my blogging here is about journalism issues, I don’t expect the relationship to present a conflict here. If I blog about any journalism issues that might involve coverage of Hagel or the Pentagon (if he is confirmed), I will repeat this disclosure (though not at this length) in those posts.
I will on occasion share links in social media to commentary or coverage about Hagel, usually with a neutral remark. I don’t see a conflict there.