“Full DisclosureBrag” in Political Reporting

How many times have you seen something like this in an article by a Washington-based political reporter:

What’s also true is that Obama and [Kamala] Harris are longtime friends. She was a featured speaker at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte. And Harris was a guest at the state dinner for British Prime Minister David Cameron. (Full disclosure: We were at the same table that night.)

The principle behind full disclosure is a noble one: To let the reader know that the journalist may be biased by personal association with the subject s/he covers. But not infrequently it is used in a way that makes me throw up a little in my mouth: To emphasize that the journalist is important, connected and fabulous.

If you don’t believe me, ask yourself a question. If the goal of full disclosure is to completely reveal the truth, why don’t roughly half of all “full disclosures” put a political reporter in a negative light? Surely, negative feelings and experiences can bias judgment as much as positive ones. But I have never seen anything by a political journalist along the lines of “The Governor is known to have a harsh and unforgiving interpersonal manner (Full disclosure: We used to date but she dumped me because I was chronically impotent)”.

The other striking thing about some full disclosures is that the only reason they are “ethically required” is because the journalist has inserted an unnecessary detail into a story that allows parenthetical full disclosurebrag. Did for example the above story by the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart really need to cite the state dinner with David Cameron in order to establish the widely-known fact that Attorney General Harris and President Obama are long time friends? No.

But once that detail was in the story, Capehart was forced to do his solemn duty of letting us know that he got invited to a fancy White House event (Full disclosure: I wasn’t invited, and if I had been, I probably would not have written this post. Also, I should note, in candor, that I have published in the Washington Post, as well as other newspapers — such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal — that are often mentioned in the same breath as the Post as highly desirable places to publish. But, for honesty’s sake, I should disclose that I haven’t done as much publishing in national newspapers as I have in academic outlets, where I have over 200 peer-reviewed papers. And several highly-regarded books. Just thought you had a right to know).


  1. Ken Rhodes says

    Keith, we all appreciate your watching out for our right to know.

    And BTW, if you’re gonna go to the trouble of writing (and hosting) a big-time blog, you certainly have the right to tell us stuff for whatever reason you want to.

  2. James Wimberley says

    Full disclosure:
    The Governor …
    … got me my job.
    … owes me money.
    … trashed my book.
    … published an embarrassing photo of me on Facebook.

  3. MobiusKlein says

    Full disclosures:
    … I met V.P. Gore in Hawaii when he walked past my tent
    … I was attacked by gangsters coming home from a ganglord’s funeral
    … I bitten by mosquitoes that had previously bitten Dianna Ross
    … I have written “Easter Eggs” into products run on millions of computers
    … One of these disclosures is false.

    • Keith Humphreys says

      … I bitten by mosquitoes that had previously bitten Dianna Ross

      Now that *is* exciting.

  4. Big Dog says

    Your post reminds me of the standard introduction given by bloviating academics…. ” the first time I met X was when I was writing my fifth book on Y which I am sure you are all familiar with, but if not let me…..”

  5. Matt Mangels says

    Well, I don’t want anyone getting the wrong impression so I might as well disclose the fact that I was behind Kenny Loggins in a check-out line of the Oroville, CA Wal-Mart once.

  6. says

    Keith: For my humblebrag, I’m simply going to appropriate a bit of dialog between Bunk and Freamon from Season 2, Episode 7 of The Wire (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHvE2UV2xdw#t=17s)

    Bunk: “Now look. We all got roles to play.”
    Freamon: “Oh yeah? What’s your role?”
    Bunk: “Shit, I’m just a humble motherfucker with a big-ass dick.”
    Freamon: “You give yourself too much credit.”
    Bunk: “Okay, then. I ain’t all that humble.”