Donation Search Reveals Many Supposedly Objective Professors Cited in Media Reports Are Actually Obama Donors

As a political journalist, one of the most common literary devices at your disposal is to search out a university professor who teaches politics to get them to say things about your article's subject matter. Not only does this help make your article longer, to the reader, the academic quotes give some authority to the narrative.

It probably doesn't come as a shock to anyone but in some cases, the professors being quoted are not exactly impartial observers as a new study from The Hill newspaper shows.


Just as many reporters themselves have donated, worked for, and supported Democratic presidents without disclosing this information, so to have several college professors who have been quoted somewhat frequently in the nation's top media publications. This calls into question the analyses they delivered which was supposedly impartial. After all, how objective can someone be about the 2012 race when he's been revealed to have donated directly to President Obama?

At least a half-dozen professors who gave political donations to President Obama have been quoted in news articles opining about his administration and the 2012 race for the White House.

The findings of The Hill’s months-long investigation come as Republicans have been crying foul, alleging a media bias for Obama and against Mitt Romney.

The Hill cross-checked academics who have been quoted in news articles with Obama’s donor list and eliminated those who worked in prior Democratic administrations. The half-dozen professors detailed in this article do not mention their political affiliations in their bios online. A similar search for Romney donors did not yield any results.

The scholars say they didn’t tell reporters that they had donated to Obama, but would have had they been asked. It is not common practice for journalists to inquire about such political donations, however.

It's unclear why The Hill excluded academics who had worked for previous Democratic presidents from consideration. It's highly likely that one would not work for a president without supporting him. That sort of thing ought to be disclosed to readers as well.

That said, some of the reactions that the newpaper got from the professors it discovered are pretty amusing:

  • Timothy Jost of Washington and Lee University: “I am contributing to the Obama campaign because I cannot bear the thought of 30 million Americans remaining uninsured. I do not see, however, why I would be expected to state this every time a reporter called me to ask for comment on something. Nobody does this, nor should they,”
  • Garrison Nelson, a professor at the University of Vermont told The Hill that anyone should be able to tell from his interviews that he's a Democrat.

  • Peter Ricchiuti of Tulane University: "Ricchiuti told The Hill that his comments to reporters are nonpartisan, and claimed he regularly cites economic data to make his points." He also is quoted in the piece claiming that President Obama's economic policies are "good ideas" and that he believes Obama is "a free-market guy." Sounds like a clear-headed, non-partisan professor to me.

There are some more awkward quotes in the piece. It's worth a read.

Parting shot: I somehow doubt that the arrogant Mr. Jost would feel as cavalier about lobbying disclosures. They are just as important as helping readers understand the perspective of people who tout themselves as "experts." That said, the onus belongs on the reporter to ask for and disclose the ideological perspective of the political analysts with whom they speak. While they're at it, they ought to disclose the same to the reader/viewer as well.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013