“The Smoking Gun” website has been linked on Ethics Alarms from the start, as its published documents from various sources can be an invaluable resource in uncovering unethical conduct in business, government, and popular culture. Being linked here, however, carries an implied conviction that a site is itself ethical, or at least makes a good faith effort to be so. I can no longer say this with confidence about the “The Smoking Gun,” and thus am deleting its link while designating it the Unethical Website of the Month. Let’s not forget that it is owned by Time-Warner.
Why the ban? A hacker by the name of Guccifer hacked into Bush family AOL accounts, stole private messages and photos and posted them online to embarrass the Bush family and violate their privacy. “The Smoking Gun” then re-posted all of it, including a private letter from George W. Bush to his family about planning the funeral of his father. This is a site that claims to publicize “exclusive documents–cool, confidential, quirky–that can’t be found elsewhere on the Web…using material obtained from government and law enforcement sources, via Freedom of Information requests, and from court files nationwide.” There is nothing in that mission statement about abusing the freedom of the press to publish private, personal information that the public has absolutely no right to know or see, that was stolen and already posted by a despicable, dishonest, criminal, slimeball hacker. I mention this because Time–did I mention that the site is owned by Time Warner?—wrote that “The Smoking Gun” re-published the private material “pursuant to its mission.” It did not. Nice try at slime-cleansing, Time.
The Washington Post covered this despicable conduct by the website in an article raising the question of whether the ethics of journalism were changing. No, the ethics of journalism are vanishing. Nonetheless, the Post is doing its part to fight the trend (in this case, at least, if not this one) by handling the Bush hacking story properly. It reported the hacking, which is news, but did not link to “The Smoking Gun,” and did not reprint the hacked photos and messages. Executive Editor Martin Baron said, “I don’t see a reason to display those photos. This is all private to the Bush family. There are no public policy implications here whatsoever.”
Shame on “The Smoking Gun.”
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.