Radio employee criticized for political workThe Tim Johnson campaign is criticizing a WNAX on-air employee for continuing to work in radio news while volunteering for Johnson’s opponent.
By: Seth Tupper The Daily Republic, Worthington Daily Globe
The Tim Johnson campaign is criticizing a WNAX on-air employee for continuing to work in radio news while volunteering for Johnson’s opponent.
Michelle Rook, farm director for the Yankton-based AM station, has been conducting media relations work on behalf of Republican challenger Joel Dykstra. He confirmed this week that Rook is a volunteer for his campaign, but she did not respond to phone and e-mail messages from The Daily Republic.
Steve Jarding, a Mitchell native who is managing the re-election effort for Sen. Johnson, called Rook’s dual roles “a blatant conflict of interest.”
“We have to be honest and say it doesn’t sit well,” Jarding said. “It’s wrong. There shouldn’t be a sitting journalist working for a political candidate at the same time.”
Jarding said the Johnson campaign has declined Rook’s requests for interviews and information when she has called on behalf of WNAX.
“We just won’t deal with her,” Jarding said.
Tom Huang, an ethics and diversity fellow for the Poynter Institute, an educational organization for journalists, also labeled the situation a conflict of interest and said Rook’s political activity could compromise her integrity as a journalist.
Huang referenced the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, which advises journalists to shun political involvement.
“Certainly reporters can vote, but beyond that, it becomes more difficult to retain independence if they’re openly campaigning for somebody,” Huang said.
Jarding said his criticisms are limited to Rook and do not apply to WNAX, which Jarding called “a terrific organization.” Huang, though, said Rook’s political activities could undermine the station.
“It’s not only an issue about Michelle Rook’s independence,” Huang said. “It becomes an issue about her whole radio station’s independence and credibility. When you hear a report about Joel Dykstra on WNAX, can you trust that it’s fair and balanced?”
When WNAX General Manager Bill Holst was contacted by The Daily Republic, he said he did not “know for a fact” that Rook is working with Dykstra’s campaign, and he declined to answer further questions until discussing the issue with Rook. He said that discussion will likely occur next week.
Rook’s volunteer work for Dykstra is not her first foray into politics. Earlier this year, she was a candidate in the District 18 Republican state House primary before she verbally withdrew prior to the June election. Her name remained on the official ballot, and she finished fourth in a four-way race for two spots on the general election ballot.
Besides working for WNAX, Rook also is a meteorologist for KTIV, an NBC television affiliate in Sioux City.