What About Ethics?
Have you been following the news about the “prank” call to Governor Walker by the editor of the Buffalo Beast, Ian Murphy? In the call Murphy pretends to be billionaire and conservative activist, David Koch. Almost without exception, the liberal news sites condemn the Governor for comments he made during the conversation.
Where’s the outrage about Murphy’s incredibly ugly tactic of lying and trying to entrap the Governor into incriminating himself. If a police official had done this to a criminal, many in the media and beyond would have roundly condemned him or her. But instead, headlines are trumpeting how the governor got “punked“–Murphy wasn’t asking him if he had Prince Albert in a can, he wasn’t just wasting Walker’s time, he was trying to get him to say something that could land his ass in jail. Isn’t anyone else disgusted? Almost all the stories seem to revolve around what the Governor said or implied during the conversation. No mention of the reporter’s complete lack of ethics. Even conservative Fox News doesn’t seem that upset.
Doesn’t anyone think lying to someone in pursuit of a story is appalling? Isn’t goading someone (no matter how loathsome their actions) to try and make them say something incriminating, the kind of entrapment that we should all deplore? This call shows Murphy again and again trying to get a politician who believes he is speaking to a supporter to say something, even a rude joke that can be used to make the case the politician is breaking an ethics code. But Murphy slaughters the ethics code that journalists MUST follow.
In the three pages of Google search results I checked only one spoke out clearly against the behavior of Murphy. Not coincidentally, it was The Society of Professional Journalists. They said,
Though the Buffalo Beast purports to be an alternative news site with heavily slanted views that are neither fair nor objective, the fact remains that this interview was underhanded and unethical. Credible news organizations should be cautious about how they report this already widely reported story, and must realize that the information was obtained in a grossly inappropriate manner according to longstanding tenets of journalism.
SPJ’s Code of Ethics clearly states that journalists should “be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting news.”
The Code also says to avoid “undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public.”
SPJ President Hagit Limor said what happened represents “a new low” for anyone claiming to be a journalist. “This may be how Hollywood portrays reporters, but no journalist worth his salt ever would misrepresent his name and affiliation when seeking an interview. Murphy should be ashamed not only of his actions but of besmirching our profession by acting so shamelessly.”
Journalists and news organizations should take note to carefully explain how this information was obtained and take measures not to engage in similar unethical practices.
Amen. The story shouldn’t be about Walker (there are enough true and ugly things to say about his ruthless attempt to crush unions). The story should be about Murphy’s crossing the line between gathering information and fabricating it.