Who’s representing whom?

Jim McQueeny is many things to many people. Only I’m not so sure the media always portrays him that way. In some cases, they may actually be contributing to the distortion.

Let’s start with his “unabashed fan” admiration for Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) that he touted in his Star-Ledger op-ed on Tuesday. In his own words, McQueeny told the readers he “served in the 1980s as his spokesman and state chief of staff and also regularly continuing to break bread with him ever since.” But the relationship is really much deeper than that.

Over the years, the Star-Ledger has sourced McQueeny as “a longtime Lautenberg adviser” and “longtime friend”. In 2002, the Ledger and The Record both reported on McQueeny’s high profile role in Lautenberg’s campaign inner circle. No one knows for sure what role he’ll be play during the current election cycle.

Whether or not you believe the Ledger adequately disclosed the Lautenberg-McQueeny relationship at the end of the op-ed piece, I for one think McQueeny disclosed himself.

That said, let’s move on to News12 New Jersey.

McQueeny calls himself a ”television political analyst” for the station. Well he’s certainly qualified for the job. That’s not the problem.

To casual viewers, McQueeny likely appears as a full-time newscaster, particularly when he has served as a moderator for partisan political debates. But unlike other news analysts, he pays the mortgage working for clients actively wheeling and dealing in Jersey politics.

This is not to say a former political staffer or a former journalist, for that matter, should not be free to field employment in connected fields. But to avoid the appearance of conflict, the “formers” should at least put some time and distance between government and fourth estate jobs and vice versa.

So what media standard should guest commentators or columnists who moonlight as analysts meet? Here, the terrain gets a bit trickier. How do you fairly analyze issues when you represent high profile clients?

And should the standard for new media bloggers be different?

In his NJ Voices blog, McQueeny roundly criticized the Booker Administration for not doing enough to safeguard the streets of Newark to ensure residents’ safety and the economic vitality essential for entities like the Jersey Devils and the Newark Arena. No argument with the critique, just with the fact that McQueeny forgot to tell his readers that his firm represents the sports team and the venue.

By all means, the traditional media has the right to use analysts and new media bloggers have a right to opine in their columns.

But the media also needs to do a better job disclosing potential conflicts of interests to their viewers and readers.

Displaying the name of current clients represented by the guest analysts at News12 and NJN might be a good place to start. Self-disclosing current clients, even when blogging, is also a good idea.

Who’s representing whom?