MINOT, N.D. — Last year, former Rep. Matt Eidson, a Democrat from Grand Forks, took summer internships working for the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Public.
I was critical, arguing that you can't be a member of the news media and an elected official at the same time.
The objectives of those two jobs are frequently divergent in significant ways.
For instance, how could an elected official walk into a room to have candid negotiations about a thorny matter of public policy without being a reporter? How could he sit in party caucus meetings, seeing and hearing things reporters aren't typically privy to and pretend he didn't see those things or hear those things when it's time to be a reporter again?
The Eidson example is moot now. It was just a summer internship, and he's since stepped down from office for personal reasons, but state Rep. Rick Becker, a Bismarck-area Republican and founder of the controversial Bastiat Caucus, has reignited the issue.
Becker has agreed to co-host a show for regional TV and internet provider BEK Communications.
(Full disclosure: The BEK folks were kind enough to offer me a timeslot for a show, but I declined, mostly because I prefer writing, and nobody needs to see my stupid face in high-definition.)
Those familiar with Becker's ego-driven brand of politics are unsurprised at this development. He's just another politician leveraging the status of an elected office into celebrity.
But the same ethical issues that applied to Eidson apply to Becker.
How effective can Becker be in Bismarck next year during the regular legislative session, when his colleagues have to be fearful that their often sensitive deliberations might end up on his television show?
How can Becker be honest in his duties as a member of the news media and an effective elected official at the same time?
This isn't the first time this conflict has come up. Back when I wrote about Eidson, state Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, pointed out that former Sen. John Andrist and current Rep. Bill Devlin, both Republicans, owned and operated newspapers while serving in the Legislature. (Andrist left office in 2014 and passed away in 2018, Devlin is still in office but has retired from the newspaper industry.)
Haven't listened (yet), but another interesting angle for discussion would be late Sen. John Andrist and current Rep. Bill Devlin, both owned/ operated newspapers while serving. #NDPol— Corey Mock (@coreymock) May 17, 2019
But the question isn't "has this been done before?"
It clearly has.
The question is "should this be done?"
The answer is, it should not.
Maybe this seems like an old-fashioned idea, but there should be a bright line between those who serve in government and those who report what the government is doing. And yes, that includes people who work in the world of opinion because, if you're doing that job right, it's a form of journalism too.
If you situate yourself in front of an audience as someone who will tell them revealing things about government and politics — whether it's as a commentator or a meat-and-potatoes beat reporter — you cannot compromise that endeavor by simultaneously holding elected office.
Perhaps it won't surprise you to know that, given what my job is, I've spent a lot of time thinking about this. Over the years, I've had people approach me to run for various elected offices, usually at the local level, and I've turned them down. Because though I value public service a great deal, I could never see how it would be possible to do my job as an opinion journalist while simultaneously working in elected office.
Becker needs to pick a lane. Either he's going to be a political celebrity and talking head, or he's going to serve the people of District 7, but he can't do both simultaneously.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.