Linda Douglass, the former television reporter here who is now a contributor editor at National Journal, will join the Barack Obama presidential campaign as a senior strategist and "senior campaign spokesperson on the roadshow," as The Atlantic's Mark Ambinder puts it.
Douglass confirmed her new position when I walked up to the ninth floor, knocked on her door, and asked her about it. She informed National Journal President Suzanne Clark this morning of her impending departure.
"I see this as a moment of transformational change in the country and I have spent my lifetime sitting on the sidelines watching people attempt to make change. I just decided that I can't sit on the sidelines anymore."
Now it gets interesting. Political blogs are buzzing about the move, and Ambinder returned to the subject in a later post:
I've worked with Linda Douglass here at the Atlantic Media empire and at ABC News, and it would be unfair for you -- and for me -- to avoid sharing my impression of her. Linda Douglass has always struck me as an eminently fair journalist, idealistic, yes, but tough-minded and careful.
That said, the news her departure, in the catalytic phase of a presidential election, to the campaign of one of the two major candidates, is a story worth exploring. It certainly took the McCain and Obama campaigns by surprise, as it did Douglass's colleagues here at the Watergate.
He adds some background and lists some of the other journalists who have crossed over:
To conservative media critics, the divide between the press corps and modern political liberalism is fairly narrow, and easy to jump over, and Douglass's decision will reconfirm their sense that bias pervades newsrooms. Liberals who support Hillary Clinton will scour Douglass's work -- and the output of the National Journal -- to see whether she betrayed any pro-Obama tint. Both the Clinton and McCain campaigns have complained that the media is in the tank for Sen. Obama. One Clinton campaign adviser, upon learning of Douglass's decision, e-mailed: "This is scandalous and further undermines the media’s ability to claim independence overall."
Mark Salter, a senior strategist for John McCain who has known Douglass for years, said in an e-mail,"I like Linda very much. [[I] [w]ish her every happiness, but no success in November."
Two weeks ago, she interviewed her soon-to-be boss, David Plouffe; her first question was about Obama's problems with working class whites. In March, Douglass asked Obama adviser Gregory Craig how Obama's foreign policy experience "possibly stand up to hers," meaning Hillary Clinton's. But in early May, appearing on MSNBC's Hardball, she seemed to accept the argument that if Hillary Clinton were the nominee, African American voters "might sit on their hands."
Douglass's husband, attorney John Phillips, is a major Obama campaign fundraiser. It is unclear when she began to discuss the possibility of a position with the Obama campaign, although she told me this morning that the offer and her acceptance happened "very recently."
Douglass is the latest in a string of prominent journalists to jump over the news/subject barrier.
Some switches are well known, and they mostly involve Democrats: Tim Russert, Chris Matthews and George Stephanopoulos all worked for prominent Democratic politicians before taking journalism jobs. David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, was a well regarded reporter at the Chicago Tribune before he turned to politics.
More recently, Jonathan Martin, a senior political writer at the Politico, jumped from Congress, where he served as a Republican press secretary, to National Journal's Hotline; then to National Review, then to the Politico, where he covers Republican candidates. Geoff Morell, a former ABC News correspondent, joined the Pentagon as a spokesman; Dorrance Smith moved easily from the first Bush administration to ABC News, where he served as executive producer of This Week, to the Pentagon during the second Bush administration.
Beatwriters, too, have taken the plunge. Leigh Strope, who covered labor issues for the Associated Press, left several years ago to join the Teamsters' union as a spokesperson. Ed Chen covered the White House for the Los Angeles Times and now covers politics for Bloomberg. Between those jobs, he worked for the Natural Resources Defense Council.