It's obvious to me that journalists should no longer be expected not to express opinions, even on the topics they cover.
But sometimes, if journalists have unsupportable opinions that are so extreme, so rude, or so out-of-step with everyday sensibilities, they should at least refrain from expressing them, because it taints their profession and our perception of their ability to be even-handed.
And if they do throw out such opinions, reporters should definitely recuse themselves from covering anything related to their extreme/rude/bombastic utterances.
To my way of thinking, Fox 31 Denver reporter Julie Hayden's repeated comments that Obama "doesn't love" America, doesn't even "like America," and in fact has "disdain" and "contempt" for our country, fall into the extreme/rude/bombastic category. And Hayden shouldn't be covering any story related to Obama, federal political issues, or, to be safe, any partisan political topic.
Hayden, who says she once voted for Obama and doesn't cover the president, has been trashing him on her Saturday-morning radio show, Wake Up With Chuck and Julie, which she co-hosts with hubby Chuck Bonniwell, on KNUS 170-AM.
On her radio show last Saturday, in the wake of Rudy Giuliani's comments that Obama doesn't love America, Hayden even presided over a debate on the topic of whether Obama likes America, with Hayden and Bonniwell taking the side that he does not.
"To me, it just seemed so obvious he doesn't like America, and, you know, I think has disdain for it and contempt," said Hayden in a typical comment. (Listen below at the 20:50 mark.)
Journalists are supposed to be evidence-based, and such an accusation is not supportable. Can Hayden read Obama's mind?
Here's another exchange, at the 9:40 mark:
Caller: "It's not only that he doesn't love the country. I actually think that he hates it, that he does everything he can to undermine the country at every turn."
Bonniwell: "You're absolutely right."
Hayden: "I don't disagree with you."
Asked via email whether such extreme comments are appropriate for a journalist listed as a "reporter" at Fox 31 Denver, a major Denver news outlet with a five-star reputation for its political coverage (and not linked to the partisan Fox News Network), Hayden offered these thoughts:
I believe, like many things, "extreme" is in the eye of the beholder. I do not consider my comment that I did not think the president likes America to be "extreme" any more than I consider someone else saying they believe the president loves America to be "extreme." I have also said on the radio program that it's my opinion that Governor Hickenlooper has shown he cares about Colorado. I don't think that's "extreme" either. I have also said on the program many times that I supported Hillary Clinton in 2008 and was very disappointed when she dropped out, and that I voted for President Obama. I don't consider those "extreme" comments, and I do not think they crossed any kind of journalistic line. I respect your question and your opinion, but I do not think it crosses a journalistic line for me to express an opinion one way or another on the president, because I don't cover the president in my television job. We have been fortunate at Fox 31 Denver to have Eli Stokols as our political reporter, and he does a great job. It would be a different matter if I was a White House correspondent, but that's not the case. I would also like to point out that whenever I express an opinion I invite and welcome people with other opinions to comment too. In this case I frequently mentioned that our friend Chuck completely disagrees with me. I think it would be wrong as a journalist and a talk-show host to make it seem like there was only one side to any issue. And whatever the topic, I think we do talk about all sides and take calls and comments from all sides. We don't screen out any calls.
I was glad that Hayden, who mostly covers crime and general-interest topics, agrees with me that she shouldn't cover Obama, but local TV news tends to swarm around the hot stories of the day.
So it's no surprise that Hayden reported this story the day before the 2012 election on Romney's and Obama's voter-turnout efforts. This piece looks fair to me, but what would Hayden's next story about Obama look like? About immigration? About women? About the environment? About net neutrality?
And lots of crime stories, the staple of TV news, connect to partisan politics.
"To me it's very bad that we have a president that doesn't like America," said Hayden on air (at the 12:20 mark below). Let's hope she doesn't use her journalism job to do something about it.