When reporters get political

The revolving door between journalism and political consulting receives fresh scrutiny in an Editor & Publisher article focusing on Ohio candidate Jean Schmidt's media strategist Fritz Wenzel, previously a long-time staff writer for the Toledo Blade. The problem, however, is not Wenzel's latest gig but his friendship with Tom Noe, the GOP contributor at the center of the Coingate scandal:


Wenzel, a longtime GOP campaign worker in Oregon, spent 10 years on the Blade politics beat before returning to the world of political consulting in May, virtually the day after he left the paper. One of the key contacts he made along the way was the man now at the center of the Coingate accusations, Tom Noe, a major Republican fund-raiser who attended the wedding of Wenzel's son, P.J., a state GOP employee. Noe's wife, Bernadette, even praised Wenzel during a GOP Lincoln Day Dinner this spring. "It was obvious that [Wenzel] was a Republican, he never hid the fact," Dennis Lang, interim chair of the Lucas County Republican Central Committee, told me last month. "But his work stayed in neutral ground."
Not according to the Lucas County Democratic Party, which devoted a page on its Web site to blasting Wenzel for alleged inaccuracy and bias. Suspicions about partisan leanings were further fueled when Wenzel signed on as media strategist for Jean Schmidt, the GOP nominee for an open Cincinnati-area congressional seat that voters will fill in a special August election (she won a primary on June 14). Disclosure records show Wenzel received $30,000 from Schmidt's campaign on May 16, the day his last column for the paper appeared, and three days after he left the Blade. He got another $30,000 from those coffers a week later, according to records. Part of the money went to media buys.
Wenzel's career change also renewed rumors, so far unsubstantiated, that his ties to Noe and the GOP may help explain why he not only failed to uncover Coingate but also a related Noe scandal involving alleged illegal funneling of contributions to President Bush's 2004 campaign. Several Blade editors told me they'd heard rumors that Wenzel learned as early as January 2004 about a federal investigation into Noe's alleged illegal donations, none of which emerged in the press until this past spring.
While the article is careful not to accuse him of impropriety, it's the kind of thing that would have conservatives screaming for blood if Wenzel were a Democrat. Goddamn the liberal press!

[LINK via Eschaton]

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