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When family and journalism clash

“I told my mother-in-law that my house was her house, and she said, ‘Get the hell off my property.'”
— Joan Rivers

Being a journalist can be hard on your family. It’s doubly true when it comes to in-laws. Spouses know what they’re getting when they marry you. They know you’re going to work long hours, get late-night phone calls and have to deal with some of the job’s more interesting demands. My wife loves being involved in politics. She even ran for office in Upstate New York before we were married.

Because I’m a journalist, however, I can’t have political signs in my yard or bumper stickers on my car. This has driven my wife batty over the years. But she knew this was part of the package when she married me.

I couldn’t do anything that would put me in a bad spot professionally. I couldn’t have any conflicts of interest. Not even the hint of one.

Things got interesting in June. Molly told me her mom was having a family portrait taken. I was excited about the idea. Then she told me that it would be used in her mom’s campaign literature. My mother-in-law is running for family court judge in Tioga County, New York.

Immediately, Molly could tell I wasn’t comfortable with the idea.

“I need you to do this,” she said. She reminded me of the sacrifices she’s made. No bumper stickers. No yard signs. Moving away from home. “This is family.”

I folded my arms. “But it’s actual campaign literature. My picture in campaign literature. I’m really not comfortable.”

I said I’d think about it. Talk if over with some friends.

The next day, she told me she would support any decision I made. She really sounded like a mother there. Our son is in for it when he starts to misbehave.

I talked to several of my coworkers and journalistism friends about the situation.

Some said I shouldn’t do it at all. Others said it wasn’t a breach of ethics because she’s not running for office in an area I cover.

I called my mother-in-law and told her I was thinking it over. Apparently Molly had avoided the topic. My mother-in-law was surprised when I brought my concerns up, saying she hadn’t thought about that. She was very understanding and, truth be told, she’s been one of the most accommodating people as far as my career conflicting with personal matters. Many of my non-journalist friends and family members don’t understand why I can’t do some things, but she’s always been supportive.

Randy Parker, the managing editor here at the York Daily Record/Sunday News, had a different take than most of my friends. After talking with me about the situation, he said he wasn’t concerned about me being in the photograph, but that I was OBVIOUSLY still concerned about it.

If you’re not comfortable with it, don’t do it, he said.

But he also brought up someone who had a similar scenario. Daily Record/Sunday News court reporter Rick Lee is the brother-in-law of U.S. Rep. Todd Platts.

Randy told me to talk to Rick.

We discussed the matter for a few minutes. He said he would be in the picture if he was in my place, especially since my mother-in-law isn’t even running for office in this state.

There’s no conflict of interest, he said.

In the end, I took the picture. Even smiled. I’m glad, because we have the family photo and I’m happy to be there for my mother-in-law.

No matter what Joan Rivers says.