State Of U.S. Journalism: “Conflict of Interest? Oh, THAT Old Thing!”

At last report, rolling in his grave...

At last report, rolling in his grave…

I believe that the field of journalism ethics has been negated, as the news media now routinely ignores the most obvious conflicts of interest, and make no effort  to avoid them, address them, or disclose them.

Case #1: Taking orders from Hamas

 Hamas has published media guidelines instructing Gazans to always refer to the dead as “innocent civilians” and to never post pictures of armed Palestinians on social media. Hamas has prevented foreign reporters from leaving the area, and it is easy to see how foriegn journalists would conclude that the best way to ensure their safety is to avoid angering their “hosts.” Seemingly mindful of these concerns, the New York Times’ reporting on the Gaza conflict from Israel depicts tanks, soldiers, and attack helicopters, while virtually all images from Gaza are of dead children, weeping parents, bloody civilians, ruined buildings, overflowing hospitals, or similar images of pain, carnage and anguish. As Noah Pollack noted in the Weekly Standard website,  a Times photo essay today contains these images:

“…three of Gaza civilians in distress; one of a smoke plume rising over Gaza; and three of the IDF, including tanks and attack helicopters. The message is simple and clear: the IDF is attacking Gaza and harming Palestinian civilians. There are no images of Israelis under rocket attack, no images of grieving Israeli families and damaged Israeli buildings, no images of Hamas fighters or rocket attacks on Israel, no images of the RPG’s and machine guns recovered from attempted Hamas tunnel infiltrations into Israel.”

Is this just naked anti-Israel bias, or is the Times simply trying to report the story without getting its reporters’ into further peril? I’ll be charitable and presume the latter: fine. But that defines a clear conflict of interest that mars the objectivity of the Times’ reporting, and the paper has an ethical obligation, under its own guidelines, to disclose it in every report where it might be relevant.

It has not.

Case #2: No conflicts checks at the Washington Post

After Newsbusters pointed out to its readers that The Washington Post published a story on anti-Israel protests written by a virulently anti-Israel graduate student named Britain Eakin, the Post admitted that it had assigned her without realizing that she had a conflict of interest, posting this:

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Post covered a protest outside the State Department on July 20 against U.S. policy in the Middle East and Israel’s actions in Gaza. One reporter sent to cover the protest, Britain Eakin, is an intern who has written opinion pieces elsewhere that sharply criticize Israel in the conflict. The Post should not have sent her to cover the protest and, had it known of her writings, would not have done so.

Newsbusters, flushed with success, gratuitously praised the Post for admitting its error. I won’t. Finding Eakin’s writings as easy as checking her Twitter feed, where her anti-Israeli and pro-Hamas editiorials for al-Jazeera America and the website Counterpunch were linked.  Doesn’t the Post have a conflicts check procedure when it assigns new reporters? Does it provide any guidelines or training on conflicts at all? Is Eakin still being employed by the Post, after undermining its credibility by not disclosing her biases? Or was the Post just caught doing what it does routinely—assigning reporters with political and ideological agendas, and engaging in damage control?

Case #3: Costanza-Level Conflict For MSNBC

The “Seinfeld” episode where George Costanza tries to brass through being confronted by his boss for having sex on his desk with the office cleaning woman comes to mind in situations like this. “Was that wrong?,” George asks, as if this was a gray area. “Should I not have done that?” Admittedly, the “news organization” in question is MSNBC, a journalistic ethics free zone, but even so: on a recent edition of his MSNBC show, Jose Diaz-Balart was broadcasting from the National Council of La Raza’s (NCLR) conference in Los Angeles. He hosted an illegal immigrant activist and favorably responded to her calls for the legalization and citizenship, and used his program to support the NCLR agenda. He never mentioned that he was being given  a special award at that very conference, the Ruben Salazar Award for Communication, given “each year to an outstanding communications professional dedicated to portraying news relevant to US Hispanics.” At one point a guest spilled the beans (no ethnic slur intended) by congratulating him; even then, he didn’t explicitly explain what was going on. Was this because he knew he had an undisclosed conflict?

You betcha.

When major members of a profession are routinely disregarding the professional’s duties to avoid conflicts of interest and to disclose all potential conflicts, there is rebuttable presumption that such a profession is no longer a profession at all. U.S. journalism’s conduct is making that presumption difficult to rebut.


Sources:Newsbusters 1, 2NYT, Daily Standard

55 thoughts on “State Of U.S. Journalism: “Conflict of Interest? Oh, THAT Old Thing!”

  1. Do not tell me that a man has the most powerful job in the world…and then give me excuses as to why he has failed at that job.

  2. Comment fail: previous comment should have gone under Jack’s previous story. If I had the most powerful job in the world, I’d fix it myself.

  3. More victim sympathy! Not a surprise from media or the liberal world. Even, or maybe especially, contrived victimization
    It’s better to be a victim if you want sympathy from liberals. But I’m pretty sure from the standpoint of saving your nation, it’s better to be strong and competent.
    It would be reassuring if I were still able to think of the United States as strong and competent.

  4. Perhaps these reporters should have a disclaimer like the ones found on nutritional supplements. “These reports have not been evaluated for accuracy and honesty”. Unfortunately it probably would do no good anyway because just like diet pills, a lot of people will want to believe the claim and buy what is being sold to them.

  5. When any major (and most minor) organization hires somebody, it has to be assumed that they read their employee’s resume first and made an at least cursory check of it for accuracy. This is particularly true if that employee is in a position to cause major damage to that organization through word or deed. It’s either that or sheer incompetence if someone is hired whose own incompetence or biases render them unfit for their position. This also, BTW, very much carries over to government!

    • The problem, Steven, is that it does NOT carry over into government. At least, not at the Federal level. This administration has set new records for appointing ignorant, arrogant and incompetent people to remarkably critical leadership posts. Chuck Hagel and Eric Holder come immediately to mind. I might also add that the press, in what is clearly a conflict of interest, has been falling all over themselves defending (or not reporting on) these people.

  6. media have long served the power elite, if not wholly.

    eg. much like media label as “terrorists” those who have resisted an illegal invasion and brutal 40-year occupation of their homelands. in 1776, we called them “patriots.”

    • Might want to read some history, there, Dude. For the Hebrews to take back a land they owned several thousand years ago is neither an “illegal invasion” nor have they “brutally occupied” that land for ANY amount of time. It IS sad, however, that you have fallen for the Hamas and Hezbollah line of B.S.

      • its a non-starter to invoke biblical era history in any serious discussion of the modern conflict..even serious israeli historians only start with ottoman empire.

        but…since you brought it up:

        1) Modern Euro-American/Yemeni Jewish immigrants to Israel arent monolithically/geneologically descended from the Biblical Hebrews. there is simple no good evidence that they are.

        2) the original Bronze Age inhabitants of the Levant were Canaanites and proto-Canaanites, NOT Hebrews. if you will recall (if you review your Bible)..and this is the real kicker….Abraham is very clearly AN IMMIGRANT to palestine. so unless you would like to invoke some mythical bronze-age sky god land grant to said immigrant here in an ethics forum, youre essentially forced to admit even the Jewish people start with the idea the land was not theirs UNTIL GOD GAVE IT TO THEM (which of course is absurd.). by the way, there is better evidence that some modern Palestinians descended from the Canaanites than that modern Jews come from ancient Hebrews.

        3) nobody “owned” the land in any meaningful contractual way during the bronze age that has any bearing on modern legal affairs.

        if you want to have a serious disccusion about he land…you have to begin with 1882…1948…and 1967. These are the pivotsl dates that demonstrate modern Israel is a massive experiment in the displacement and genocide of the majority, original (19th-early 20th century) Palestine inhabitants.

        im not saying israel doesnt have a right to exist. but the palestinians have been brutally relegated to internment camps for at least 40 years.

        you clearly arent up to date on modern scholarship.


        • I agree with you somewhat more than the others here.. but it’s worth noting that genetic testing does suggest a Middle Eastern origin for European Jews (the same way that it suggests a South Asian origin for the Romani). Of course, not even the Palestinians or the Levantine Mizrahim have a “pure” line of descent from the biblical inhabitants of Israel (whoever they were, considering that it’s fully possibly that the actual Israelites were simply Canaanites who happened to be discover monotheism), considering the population influxes into the region that happened from at least the Pax Romana onwards.

          Sorry, that’s just a pet peeve of mine, akin to people still thinking that South Korea and Taiwan are third-world countries or people claiming that all Israeli Jews are European (actually, it’s about 50/50 between the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim/Mizrahim, with the latter group actually being the majority until the fall of the USSR).

      • Do we get to count grammar, semantic and compositional errors as well?

        Ordinarily ignoring those, as we all make them on occasion, since this piece is rife with them, surely they count?

          • Does the comparison of Hamas and the Founding Fathers count as 2 errors? If it does, then does the comparison of Israel to Colonial period Britain count as 2 also?

            • talking spin here…not making equivalents. if you were a whig or british loyalist merchant in virginia in 1776, george washington was a traitor and his guerilla war tactics were terroristic. brits actually used the word ‘terror.’

              the colonies WERE british, the british WERE brutal…and the colonists wanted a separate state. they had to fight and die and kill for it. any questions?

              • Look, Zann; you’re trying to heap on analogies and moral equivalents by the truckload. I don’t know where you got these screwy ideas or where you learned history, but don’t try to blow sunshine up my ass with this patented line of B.S. When you start trying to accuse George Washington of terrorism, all you’re doing is making a king sized moron out of yourself. That earlier stuff about “corporate and Zionist interests” only established you as a embittered leftist fanatic who doesn’t really care about integrity or accuracy in debate; only accusations to forward his degenerate agenda. Try that stuff on the Daily Kos’ commentary board. Don’t try it here. Too many of us have learned to reason things out on a basis of reality.

                • my point is that the british press would label some of george washington’s tactics as terror tactics and immoral. guerilla warfare was considered barbaric and cruel. im not agreeing with that, im saying that one man’s terrorist CAN be another mans freedom fighter.

                  • If we choose to view the world through a subjective morally relativistic lens, then certainly whatever people feel is the limit of judgement. However, if we are to be honest, we must accept an ethical standard and judge the world from that. So barring the ever shifting world of feelings, we can’t accept your conclusions.

                  • Tell me where Washington engaged in guerrilla warfare to begin with. The very term didn’t come about until the time of the Peninsular War in Spain in the early 19th Century. Possibly, you might ascribe this to Sumter and Marion in South Carolina, but they weren’t under Washington’s command, nor were they condemned as “terrorists” by the British.

                    But this is all on the side. The very basis of your comparison to the revolt of the American colonies against British rule is fundamentally flawed. It sounds a lot like those hippies who tried to make the same comparison with another bunch of modern day terrorists. The Viet Cong!

                    • if i were into ad hominems….wow. the viet cong….terrorists?? do you know anything about vietnam? tread lightly, i will school you about anti colonial vietnamese nationalism faster than you can type.
                      how on earth can the chief anti colonial nationalists supported by 85% of the population be terrorists? dont even bother to respond. anti americanism isnt by definition terrorism.

                    • If the Hue Massacre wasn’t terrorism, it will do until the real terrorism shows up. There seems to be little debate whether the Cong resorted to terror tactics, and calling them terrorists is certainly more legitimate than using the term to describe George’s army. In other words, reasonable minds may disagree, but is sure doesn’t warrant a “wow.”

                    • to be clear…the vietcong were classified as “enemy.”

                      dont confuse guerilla warfare with terrorism. my god, do you have any idea what american soldiers did to the vietnamese? millions desd. to even suggest those nationalists were terrorists is obscene. deny the holocaust while youre at it. and im not even a marxist.

                      anti american does NOT equal wrong. sorry.

                      sometimes yes. as a matter of principle? no.

                  • you cite hue? thats your argument?

                    the philosophy for american troops…explicitly stated in fact: kill anything that moves. from ’65 onward. whos country was it by the way? hmm…yet you say the vietnamese were the terrorists? its a lunacy no credible scholar would endorse.

                    read any mainstream, respected account of the war. youre completlely wrong. what are you a mcnamara/westmoreland apologist? lets go back to the era of biplanes when realpolitik made sense while were at it.

              • Yes and if we minimize key differences anyone is like anyone…

                Jesus and Charles Manson both had hands and feet.

                Unfortunately for your moral equivalency, we have to be a bit more stringent in our comparisons of Hamas and the Founders.

              • Not only the considerable license necessary to equate Israel with Colonial era Britain in regards to their relationship with vastly different rebelling elements.

                • entity x feels aggrieved by entity y.
                  entity y considers entity x a trustee entity, if you will, etc.

                  x delcares and seeks autonomy as a means toward politiical resolution to said aggrievances,

                  y dissallows x’s claims to political sovereignty (except as qualified in a limited sense to the satisfaction of y.)

                  war ensues.

                  y considers this war stance of x illegal and illigitimate.

                  something like that. more whisky.

              • I have one: how the hell did you get like this?

                1. Washington’s tactics were not terrorist by any means, and there was a war on. The British used “terror” because all sorts of warfare is terrifying. Did George Washington attack civilians? No. The British did, however.

                2. Yes, by British lights, all the Founders were traitors. What does that possibly have to do with Israel?

                3. If you can see any analogy between the British colonies and the Palestinians, you need history lesson, logic lessons, analogy lessons, debate lessons….oh, so many lessons.

                But please, do answer my question.

                • we could go round and round but my chief differences with the comments on this post no doubt stem from competing assumptions and premises we’d have to excavate. difficult to do in a comments box with one hand.

                  the ad hominem comments about grammar and spelling are silly. im no troll. i legitimately disagree with some claims here. i already schooled dragin_dragon on the biblical claim question above. i will address your question when i finish my whisky.

                    • my comments are readable, hence your cogent inquiries. lets proceed:

                      forget realipolitik for a moment. forget imaginary borders we call ‘nations.’. after all america did not exist in any legal sense prior to july 4th 1776. but there were real grievances. for the proto-americans we call the founding fathers, those grievances amounted to a justification to self identify as independent. as an independent, sovereign nation. not to come…but NOW…the declaration of independence was simultaneously an announcement of sovereignty. by definition. and they listed the grievences which justified not only their independence, but their rationale for engaging in war to ensure that independence, they were willing to fight and die for self determination. of course, the british and their loyalists scoffed at the greivences and considered them insufficient to justify both a claim to independent sovereignty and the violent warfare waged to ensure that sovereignty.

                      now for arguments sake… imagine for a moment, the 13 american colonies are the palestinian territories. here are their grievences (just a few):

                      “When you prevent Palestinians from fishing in their own waters, and destroy their boats when they try: are you the Israel God intends?
                      When you build your security perimeters on Palestinian land, and prevent Palestinian farmers from growing crops on 35 percent of their small remaining share of our world’s arable land — by shooting them when they try: are you the Israel God intends?
                      When you prevent Palestinians from traveling, to study, to see our world’s wonders, to visit family, to visit their own spouses: are you the Israel God intends?
                      When your internal check-points force pregnant women to deliver babies on the road-side, and cause medically ill Palestinians to die without care: are you the Israel God intends?
                      When your armies destroy Palestinian homes, hospitals, schools, Mosques, farms and fruit-trees in order to maintain “no-go” zones: are you the Israel God intends?
                      When you restrict Palestinians to half the electricity, and a quarter of the water that an Israeli receives: are you the Israel God intends?
                      When you hold onto all the land you claimed from active warfare since 1967, a crime according to International Law — the same International Law that made you a State in the first place: are you the Israel God intends?
                      When you maintain a belligerent 47-year long occupation, at the cost of hunger, disease, and tens of thousands of innocent lives lost and millions of lives lived under oppression: are you the Israel God intends?

                      no, independence is not rational or justified. armed struggle in hopes of achieving redress of those grievences is not justified. george III was a hero?

                    • i should add, i do respect this blog. one of the best, most intellectually stimulating ive seen that discusses so many pertinent topics. i just happened to chime in on this particular media ‘spin’ posting.

        • That linked discussion from texagg04 settles nothing. Of course Israeli Jews legitimately acquired 40% of Israel before ’48 and ’67. That’s not the point….I’m not arguing right to exist. But the Palestinians were the majority population and they were forced out by war,homes confiscated AFTER UN partition. The Israelis turned the territories into reservations, and they’ve been brutalizing them. Many high level Israelis have stated they want to totally eliminate the Arabs and have a contiguous Israel. No matter how you spin it, Palestinians are resisting colonization….to say nothing of Hamas.

          • This is too inarticulate to even comment upon….as a courtesy, I’ve at least tried to fix the basics…spelling, capitalization, punctuation. The Israelis are resisting Hamas? Hamas is resisting colonization? The Palestinians have had multiple opportunities to organize a state, and have sought violence every time as a their preferred course. A contiguous Arab state has always been within the Palestinian grasp.

            • im typing with one hand on an ipad mini…the other hand was lost while serving corporate and zionist interests (as a matter of record, not opinion). forgive the typos. concerned with ideas here.

              if you read my points carefully, you would see i am not defending hamas. Palestine is not Hamas. we shouldnt equate them…hamas is relatively new to the conflict.

              But Israel very much is an occupying force in the territories…because it controls them totally. there is bound to be resistance. if an IDF soldier beats an innocent palestinian street vendor…if it ridicules and strip searches a young girl in hebron, if it puts up wall after wall and impediment after impediment to marginalize these people for 40 years (not to mention taking by force homes and property owned outright by arabs–also a matter of record), you allow that to be called ‘defense’ but the concomitant palestinian force (whether by hamas or some other group) is unilaterally labelled ‘terrorism.’. any honest ethicist or litigator would see the hypocricy. againt, NOT justifying terrorism of any kind. but the point is spin….do not spin israels actions as defense and heroic. understand the full context of the conflict. none of the comments here reflect any but an amateurish reading of the modern history.

              as for palestines chances at a contiguous state….youve been listening to too much alan dershowitz. nonsense.

              • Israel has more than once been magnanimous in its dealings with the “Palestinians”, starting officially on day 1, when Israel accepted the 2 state agreement and “Palestinians” responded with war. It started generations before with immigrating Jews obtaining land on the Free Market and “Palestinians” eventually rebuffing with violence the very people to whom they sold land. The “Palestinians” responded the same in each kind. Israel’s reactions at this point are purely logical. Denying this is pure folly at best, maliciously willful-obtuseness at worst.

      • list them if youve got ’em. by the way, ive responded to the false historical claim about the ‘hebrews’ so for goodness sake, please dont bring that up again (see above.). my original point was about journalism spin.
        to call all instances of palestinian resistance to israeli occupation ‘terrorism’ is plain spin. dont see how anyone but a someone with a vested ethnic, religious or polotics. interest could claim otherwise.

        notice i am neither supporting hamas nor advocating violence. im addressing spin.

        • 1) You didn’t respond to any false historical claim. The genetic studies are sound. There is a clear and undeniable genetic connection between members of the Jewish diaspora. Barring a nearly impossible mass conspiracy to create a “Jewish Hoax” agreed to across countries and continents, we have to assume they came from where they claimed to come from.

          2) Of course there will be minute traces of genetic connections between modern Palestinians and people who were there millennia ago. That proves nothing. Minute genetic material does not an inheritance make. The Jewish immigration began in the late 1800s…legally, fairly, and on market terms. It was the existing population, who had been selling land to them, that began the initial instances of violence against those to whom they sold, that created the initial antagonisms.

          3) You are not addressing spin. Not one bit. You are hiding your personal screed behind that facade.

  7. Ding Ding.

    As suspected, Zan Tar, as revealed by his comment “forget imaginary borders we call ‘nations.’.”, is likely an anarchist. Be advised, their definitions of terms are not what the rest of society has commonly agreed to.

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