Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Journalistic Ethics: Breakin' All The Rules

Wisconsin and the shutdown debate have again exposed the bias of our media. Indeed, our media is a disgrace: bias, lies, distortions, laziness, conflicts of interest, you name it, they’re doing it wrong. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s take a walk through the code of ethics for journalists and see how the media measures up to their own standards.

This particular code of ethics can be found HERE. It’s from the Society of Professional Journalists. Founded in 1909, the SPJ is a professional organization that includes broadcast, print and online journalists, as well as journalism educators. Here are some of their principles:

"Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. They should test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible."
Right out of the gates, we have a bit of a laugher, unless making stuff up to help Democrats counts as honest and fair. Take, for example, the AP’s total distortions during the ObamaCare debate, like how they called Pelosi’s plan “universal coverage” when it actually excluded 22 million people, or how they uncritically reported “cost savings” that weren’t there, or a dozen other bits of Democratic propaganda. And don’t forget how The Economist mistated Republican positions and poll results so it could present its distorted view of the American right (I love how they describe 70% of the public as “extremists.”)

As for verifying information, can someone then explain to me why the MSM went insane over FOX News daring to be skeptical over the left’s global warming sacred cow? I guess some things weren’t meant to be tested.
"Journalists should identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability."
But this apparently asks too much of modern journalists, so they just attribute the information to “sources within the administration.” They also get around this problem by using other journalists or websites as sources. This is how they report rumor as fact: “ is reporting that Sarah Palin drinks human blood.”
"Journalists should diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing."
Yeah, except then you get into the whole problem of what do you do if they deny the story and point out that it can’t be true. That could kill your story. It’s better to report it now and issue a correction later... on page 100 -- especially when you want to smear a conservative right before an election. The way around this rule, by the way, is to call the subject at their office at 3:00 am and then write the magic words, “Mr. Obama did not immediately respond to our request for comments.”
"Journalists should never distort the content of news photos or video."
Unless you want to make it look like Israelis are killing unarmed Palestinians, then by all means feel free. Or if you want to make someone look bad, feel free to take their quotes out of context.

Take a look at Politico’s coverage of the Issa “scandal.” One of his staffers may have shared journalists’ notes with other journalists. Big whoop. Issa looked into it and fired the staffer. Yet, Politico tried to turn this into an "Issa scandal" by including Issa’s name in each headline and image in each article as if the “scandal” involved him. Compare that to how Pelosi's name never appeared when her aid was arrested for selling drugs.
"Journalists should examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others."
Unless you’re Joe Klein, who set out to disprove that he had a distorted view of America by visiting Democratic activists in big liberal cities in liberal states all over the liberal parts of the country. Imagine my surprise when he found that every American he met seemed to love Obama just like he does and intended to vote for the Democrats in November 2010, except for a few “ugly” and “angry” conservatives?! Yeah, no bias there.

Oh, and let’s not forget that journalists seem quite happy to dismiss bad economic conditions when Democrats are running the show but somehow think better economic conditions are horrific under Republican administrations. Or that somehow, they always see civil wars in the Republican ranks, but see nothing but unicorns and love in Democratic ranks. Or that somehow, Republicans can never be specific enough about their agenda for these journalists, yet they never make the same complaint about Democrats.
"Journalists should avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status."
Unless they are covering racist teabaggers or conservatives, then feel free to use racist, sexist, or homophobic insults against them. . . after all, they’re all fat, white, racist, southern hillbillies. Seriously, the MSM spent months intentionally not understanding and misrepresenting the Tea Party as confused astroturfers who were really a PAC created by Ron Paul or Sarah Palin. . . or Satan, and who had no idea what they wanted. Yet, these same journalists easily understood the confused and tribal coffeebreakers, and honed a unified message for them. And let’s not forget, stereotyping is second nature to the media. How often have you heard Republicans described as “angry, white men” or as representing “the rich”?
"Journalists should distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context."
Actually, I think the AP officially declared this one dead; not that anyone in the media was following it anyway. There almost isn’t a story written today that doesn’t spend as much time opining as it does reporting facts.

Check out the AP’s advocacy of ObamaCare, or the media’s distortions of all things Republican, or any of the other items linked in this article. And how can they possibly justify the Journolist, a large listserv for leftist journalists to coordinate their stories to attack people and ideas opposed by the left? Why were none of these people punished? Why did no one from the MSM even investigate this? This was an indictment on the whole rotten "profession."
"Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know. They should avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived, and remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility."
You mean like the Journolist? Or how about the way journalists give vast sums of money to Democratic campaigns or the way they marry Democrats or the revolving door between the MSM and Democratic administrations? Does any of this ring any bells with our journalistic friends? I thought not.

Interestingly, a corollary to this rule requires journalists to “disclose unavoidable conflicts.” So why did they attack Tucker Carlson for exposing the Journolist? And why didn’t any of them expose it themselves? And why would they “expose” Newscorp giving donations, but remain silent about each other? And why do so many journalists (like those at Politico) go through George Soros’ training program without disclosing that? Don’t you think they’d be upset if conservative journalists didn’t disclose being trained by The Right Wing Propaganda School?
"Journalists should distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two, and should deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage. They should also refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity."
Uh huh. That’s why ABC never runs negative stories about Disney and NBC studiously avoided talking about GE, and why sportswriters do the bidding of the NFL by covering up for their collection of criminals or pimping for new stadiums, and entertainment writers cover up the messes of the studios. Journalists are for sale. See my article on Newsvertising or watch a few minutes of CNBC if you want proof. And don't get me started on the direct link between journalists and the Democratic Party.

This is why no one trusts the media. I can’t think of another profession that so routinely and so sanctimoniously ignores ALL of its own ethical rules.


T_Rav said...

Well said. As infuriated as I sometimes get from watching the network news shows and the bias on them--i.e., Brian Williams saying that in Wisconsin, "the people have taken to the streets"--I still watch them, because it's important to keep up with the manipulation of the truth they practice. Sometimes I wish these networks would go under already and save me the trouble.

Anonymous said...

Hi guys. It seems Google, in it's infinite wisdom, has decided to disable my account. Very irritating.

At any rate, Good article, Andrew.

Journalists, in their zeal for advocacy, forget that journalism was created because newspapers wanted a wider distribution. The owners correctly identified how to go about it. They created, journalism, schools for journalists and a list of journalistic ethics. Journalism was born and the newspapers achieved a wider audience.

Violating the ethics is doing the exact opposite of the original intent. It narrows the audience. If the journalists had paid attention to history, especially their own, they would know how to avoid this problem.


StanH said...

Journalism was lost when it became a way to change the world. In fact it’s been “reported” when asked, “Why are you going into journalism?” J-School fools will invariably respond, something to the effect, “Too change the world.” ….huh! Journalism is dead and has been for decades, we just didn’t know it.

The seminal moment for me was when Walter Cronkite, reported on the “Tet Offensive,” calling Vietnam an intractable quagmire with no hope of victory (sound familiar). Though he may have been right, the Americans kicked the dog snot out of the VC in Tet, and every other battle, but as LBJ stated, (too paraphrase) “we’ve lost Cronkite we’ve lost the war.” When Cronkite did this it opened the floodgate for bogus, biased reporting, and the MSM hasn’t looked back.

CrispyRice said...

Well put rant, Andrew!

And then they wonder why more and more people turn to Fox. If we know we're not getting unbiased news, we may as well turn to where the bias mirrors our own, no?

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, Thanks! I think that's true. It is important to keep up with what people who don't distinguish between bias and non-bias are seeing.

That said, my patience for the MSM is really wearing thin. It's getting harder and harder to watch these people flat out lie and distort.

Joel Farnham said...

Finally!! I was blocked from using this site unless I used my wife's computer. I fixed it. Grrrr. I was a non-person. Now, I am back. :-)

Good article Andrew.

If journalists actually paid attention to history, especially theirs, they would know that their profession, along with the journal schools and the journalistic ethics were created by newspaper owners to widen their audience and strengthen the various newspaper's appeal. It worked. The newspapers gained great reputations and larger audiences.

When radio and TV came along, the major journalists went to the networks, where their audience was almost built in. At this point, they made a critical error. They became complacent and started to think their audience believed whatever they said was true. In fact, they started to feel that they controlled the news, and to a large extent that was true, that they started to homogenize into liberal views all the time. On all three networks. It wasn't until Reagan removed the Fairness Doctrine that their folly was revealed.

They are still in denial. I think with Obama winning the Whitehouse it is their last great hurrah!

Journalists with their advocacy zeal are turning back the clock. These mistakes are costing them dearly in audience and advertisment revenue. People are going to alternative media for their news.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, I think you've put your finger on a big part of the problem. (I attribute the rest to laziness and lack of subject-matter knowledge.)

The only thing journalism has to offer the public is information. And information is only useful when it's accurate and fairly presented. When people go into journalism to try to change the way people think, i.e. to bend mind to their way of thinking, they surrender that reputation and thereby destroy the one thing journalism relies upon to satisfy it's customers.

Groups like the New York Times survived for decades after this began because they had a reputation for integrity despite the few bad apples that infiltrated the organization. But this reputation was unwarranted as the bad apples way outnumbered the few players left with integrity. Now that the public realizes this, there is almost no MSM organization left in which people can put any faith.

That's what's killed journalism. And unless they turn this around fast, then journalism is dead.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, Sorry to hear about your sign-in problems with Google. A couple people I know even had to start over with new accounts.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, True. I think FOX has benefited greatly from this. If all the networks are going to present the same news from AP and then just spin it differently, you might as well go with the spin that doesn't offend you or the things you believe.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I got your comments out of the spam filter. Hopefully that will end your problem as this thing is supposed to learn.

Unknown said...

Back in the good old days, newspeople were "reporters." Newspapers were open about their political preferences. So it wasn't necessary for the reporters to write pretend stories, since they had the editorial department for that.

Journalism school changed all that. After they've learned all those pesky ethical rules, they learn how to avoid them or flout them without getting caught (thank God, they can't do that as easily in the internet age).

So they puff themselves up with their self-image of "forces for good and for social change." I would add that from my personal viewpoint, it's exactly the same thing that has gone wrong with the legal profession.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, Excellent points! Journalism regulated itself because it knew it needed to if it wanted to be able to sell it's product because people wanted to know they could trust what they were reading. And after the era of yellow-press journalism, was at an all time low in terms of being held in esteem.

Between the 1900s and the 1960s, journalism really took off and built an impressive legend. I can't say that it ever truly lived up to those standards, but what produced was good enough because of it's efforts to achieve those standards.

Beginning in the 1960s, however, liberals began to chafe at the rules, because they kept them from advocating. So they began bending the rules, one after another until there were no rules left that hadn't been bent. And that's where we are today, with a profession that claims to uphold a set of ethics that it entirely ignores. And because of that we have no reason to trust anything they say, and hence, we have no reason to buy their product.

It's a failure all around.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I'm going to delete your test comments, as they all appeared now.

Joel Farnham said...

Thanks for your help Andrew.

Go ahead and delete.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I think the problem, in a word, is liberalism. If they want to include liberal editorials in a newspaper, I'm fine with that. But the problem is that liberals are never satisfied doing their liberalism within the rules. Thus, they try to inject it into everything else. Hence, they bend and break the ethical rules (just as they have in law) so that they can do what they want to.

To me, this is as asinine as the US Postmaster saying "from now on I won't deliver to groups I don't like." That's not your job!

AndrewPrice said...

No problem Joel. Hopefully, we'll get the dang spam filter to ignore you soon.

By the way, for those who are interested, the spam filter was forced on us by Google. Grrrr.

And if anyone is having problems commenting, please let us know and we'll try to get the spam filter to ignore you.

Ed said...

Great rant! I'm completely sold! I like the way you link everything too.

Journalism has fallen apart in this country. I think liberalism is part of it, but I also think simple stupidity is part of it. I don't know any journalists that I would consider intelligent or knowledgeable people. That's a huge failure since their business is gathering information and presenting it.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Thanks! I agree. I think liberalism is a huge part of the problem, as I point out above. But I think that stupidity and ignorance is an even bigger problem. I can't tell you how many times I've seen journalists report things that they clearly didn't understand. They don't know what questions to ask, they don't when their subjects are dodging the questions or providing BS answers, and they mindlessly repeat things that just aren't true.

I see this as a failure of training and education. A real journalist would investigate what they are reporting until they understood it. Modern journalists don't bother. That's why they're so susceptible to the newsvertising issue.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, I wonder if it's time to just do away with the idea of objective journalism altogether. Although there are a few agencies out there who actually seem to adhere to that standard, most of the time (Reuters, for example), too often it's used as cover for organizations which are obviously biased but manage to get away with it. It's probably not as bad as I'm making it out to be, but it is infuriating.

P.S. The filter must be having real problems, because the headline for this post reads 30 comments but there's like 18 showing up.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, We've been having a real problem with the spam filter. When they first put it in, almost everything was marked spam. But we solved that problem, at least until recently, when we started getting hit by massive amounts of spam -- about 1 every 20 minutes (from Russia). That's when it started deleting real comments again. Unfortunately, when it does that, it messes up the comment count. The more it messes up, the greater the disparity.

I don't think getting rid of objective journalism is the answer. To the contrary, I think there's a huge market opportunity for a network and newspaper to present unbiased news and then present their editorial content separately. I think a network like that would easily dominate the others -- so long as they also provided more than just wire service reports, i.e. they took their job as investigators and journalists seriously.

The problem is that (1) the people who've claimed to try to be fair (like CNN) have failed -- though they failed because they weren't fair, they just went from hard left to most left and they turned off their audience without attracting anyone else, and (2) the biased agencies will accuse this new company of bias to protect their own markets.

Joel Farnham said...


I suspect you are right that there is a market for objective journalism. Unfortunately, until the brand we have gets to the bottom, (I mean, utter guttersnipe, with green mudlike goo being thrown that burns like acid and sticks.) we won't see it get any better.

People have to be turned off completely and spend their money elsewhere before the owners realize what this is getting them. A pile of debts and no way to pay.

I thought they reached the bottom when they went after Palin and family. It seems I was wrong.

Tennessee Jed said...

I used to write the editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel everyday with the most recent example of the A.P. editorializing from section a via 1) analysis 2) just what they chose to cover or 3) where quotes were placed within the story and how they were phrased. I no longer bother.

I think this really went over the cliff a few years ago with new management who instructed the writers to "analyze."

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I think it's possible to start such a service now, just as Fox appeared out of the blue when everyone assumed there was no room for another network. But it would be very expensive and I'm not sure anyone is willing to invest to do that, given that the industry seems to be dying? Also, with Fox covering the right, that takes away a big chunk of the market that could have been captured right away. So this might be a lot more difficult project than it would have been say 10 years ago.

In terms of hitting bottom, I doubt we've seen the bottom. It seems that every time the MSM hits what I think is the bottom, they manage to go further when the next conservative comes along. I was pretty sure they'd hit the bottom with Iran Contra, and then again with the Bush I "affair" that never happened, and then the Bush II "fake Vietnam service" bit. But then they really outdid themselves with the venom they hit Palin with.

This does feel a low they won't be able to surpass, but then they haven't stopped attacking Palin or her family since. So I get the feeling they're just waiting for the next chance to push the envelope again.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I think it's hopeless to change this within the existing profession -- there's just too much damage to fix some of these newspapers and networks and the people running them are quite happy with the mess they've made.

I think the only way this gets fixed is with outsiders coming along and simply taking away their market share and putting them out of business.

Joel Farnham said...


If they are not careful, the next round of journalist attacks might be actionable. Which would be fun to watch. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, That's true. They've reached a point where the things they are saying are borderline actionable -- if they haven't already crossed the border.

(FYI, you're still coming up in the spam filer... it's not learning... grrrr.)

Ed said...

Jed, It's disappointing that they don't listen to people who take the time to send them well thought out criticisms, but that's what I've come to expect. I don't think they care about their customers anymore.

rlaWTX said...

this is why I am not allowed to watch MSM "news" in polite company - I argue with the TV... adding what they left out, griping about their spin, debating their emphasis...
my arguing with the TV upsets the grandfolks, so I just skip it altogether. ;)

Great rant!

rlaWTX said...

oh, and, Joel - that would be some kinda bottom to hit "utter guttersnipe, with green mudlike goo being thrown that burns like acid and sticks"!!!!

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks rlaWTX! I have the same reaction. I can't take it very long before I'm arguing back or worse with my television, so I try to avoid that situation by just not watching the MSM.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, don't knock the Russian spam. If we're going to have a neo-Stalinist regime anyway, why not get all the cheap vodka and mail-order brides to go with it?

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, Good point! I'll put you down for a couple brides the next time we get some spam, which should be in a few minutes! ;-)

patti said...

ethical journalism + honest used car salesmen = very rare.

thus the rise of the blogs.

to quote charlie sheen, "duh! winning!"

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, yep. Journalism and used car salesmen really seem to be twin professions separated at birth.

edistorial said...

Good article! I came across it as I was looking for an appropriate picture for a commentary I was writing. I used and attributed (as the ethics suggested) the cartoon of the article above in my story. The commentary I wrote was another example of breaking the rules but in the context of Bulgaria. You may check it out here:

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Edistorial!

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