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For CNN, Campbell Brown Is Not Damaged Goods

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Take the Federal budget, turmoil in Afghanistan, or the 2008 election. For each topic, you're looking at the consequences of our early screw-ups in post-invasion Iraq - namely, actions taken by the Coalition Provisional Authority. The same holds true for the price of oil, the decline of the dollar, and US relations with Turkey. For an accounting of that U.S.-inflicted disaster, check out Imperial Life in the Emerald City, and No End in Sight.

So the big political issues of the day are largely framed by a situation in which Dan Senor played a key role, as press spokesman for the CPA from April 2003 to June 2004. Other journalists spoke about the CPA's press relations for the Columbia Journalism Review, which compiled an oral history of reporting in Iraq. Some samples:

"I remember going to a few of those briefings and seeing -- especially in the Bremer period -- the kind of almost shout-downs of journalists who dared to suggest that there was anything approaching an insurgency in Iraq." Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times


"I went to some CPA briefings. I thought that they were very propagandistic. They were based in trying to prove and make a political point that the U.S. being in Iraq was and is fighting the war on terror. This meant continual emphasis on foreign groups, when there was in fact very little evidence for this. In fact, all the evidence was the other way. The insurgency was almost entirely Iraqi. Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker

"And pretty soon it started dawning on me -- No, they're not just BSing us because we're the public, they actually believe this stuff. My God, are we in trouble!" Rajiv Chandrasekaran, The Washington Post

"Their press office was headed by Dan Senor, Bremer's spokesman. Their press office was packed with Republican Party loyalists, people who were hired for their political views, not because they possessed a great degree of expertise in public relations or expertise in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. They were the ones who had put people on blacklists -- they were just incredibly sensitive about anything that might not project the CPA in the most favorable light possible." Patrick Graham, whose reporting on Iraq appeared in Harper's, The Guardian and MacLeans

On his off time during that period, Senor got to know NBC correspondent Campbell Brown. The two got married in April 2006.

In different ways, Campbell Brown's husband is still shilling for the US occupation of Iraq. Check out Senor's piece that challenges Rajiv Chandrasekaran's reporting in The Washington Post, and some reactions here and here.

These days, Senor is a Fox News Contributor who tackles bigger topics, like "The Long Arm of Iran" for The Wall Street Journal, and his coup de grace, an "investigative piece" broadcast four weeks ago, called "Iran: the Ticking Time Bomb."

So, to analyze the big issues of the day you need to consider facts that may impugn the credibility of Dan Senor. Campbell Brown now faces that challenge as a brand new CNN anchor who will soon host a prime-time news program.

No doubt, CNN trusts Brown to be a strict secularist in separating matters professional away from matters personal - such as her husband's advocacy of military action against Iran. But there is absolutely no way that Brown or CNN could ever claim they will avoid the appearance of a conflict. It's very easy for CNN to report on Warner Brothers and acknowledge their common corporate parent. What will Campbell Brown do when she reports on diplomacy with Iran?

When it comes to spouses in journalism and in public life, different places have different rules.
In 2000 Jim VandeHei, who then covered Capitol Hill for the Wall Street Journal, announced his engagement to Autumn Hanna, a staffer for Tom Delay. At the time, the Journal's D.C. bureau chief said "we will work out something that avoids any appearance of a conflict." Post- nuptials, VandeHei covered The White House - until May 2002, when he jumped to The Washington Post and to his old Congressional beat, where he had very good sources. Now VandeHei works at The Politico, which advocates "thinking anew about the intersection of politics and journalism."

Bottom Line: The rules are anything but cut and dry. Brown, like everyone else, is entitled to make a living and to marry whom she wants. There is no clear evidence that she would inject bias into her reporting, though, as everyone knows, such things can be very subtle and may reflect unacknowledged editorial decisions.

My own bias is based on personal experience. I've known a fair number of couples. Sometimes, the partners were different personality types. Frequently, partners didn't share all the same interests or the same attitude about money. But I've never known a couple where both partners didn't share the same basic values. If one partner were sneaky and liked to spread gossip, the same held true for the other. If one had respect for intellectual endeavors, no matter what his level of education, the other had a similar respect.

For me, as a Jew, the most important values are honesty, personal responsibility and common decency. I simply don't know how I could live with myself if, through my own recklessness, incompetence or arrogance, I had contributed to the vast misery and suffering of Iraqis right now. If I had promoted a false picture of life under the CPA, I would be overcome with shame. I cannot understand how a person could overlook or rationalize away something as profound as that, and still live in a moral dimension.

When I see Campbell Brown on CNN my reaction is an ever so slight sense of creepiness.