The ethical quote:
These words are on the outside wall of the Museum of Natural History near the Teddy Roosevelt statue that will be coming down, according to the museum.
The quote is a far better memorial to Roosevelt and his character than the statue.
The fair quote:
The question is how soon this will dawn on the groveling, and how soon the intimidated will have the courage to speak the truth.
The unethical quote:
The Washington Post issued a justification for its widely (and correctly) criticized 3000 word story about a politically incorrect costume that a woman wore at the Halloween party of Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles two years ago. Because two vicious social justice Furies who were guests at the party decided that the current George Floyd Freakout presented an opportunity to humiliate the woman and contacted the paper, it published 3000 words about an old, private incident, resulting in the woman losing her job, and Toles, who had refused to identify her when one of the vengeful and self-righteous women called him to re-open the episode, was embarrassed by his own employer.
The Post’s own readership found the paper’s news journalism ethics atrocious (as do I), prompting this response from a spokesperson to Fox News:
“Employees of The Washington Post, including a prominent host, were involved in this incident, which impelled us to tell the story ourselves thoroughly and accurately while allowing all involved to have their say. The piece conveys with nuance and sensitivity the complex, emotionally fraught circumstances that unfolded at the party attended by media figures only two years ago where an individual in blackface was not told promptly to leave. America’s grappling with racism has entered a phase in which people who once felt they should keep quiet are now raising their voices in public. The story is a microcosm of what the country is going through right now,”
A simple “We’re sorry, we screwed up, the story never should have been written and we don’t know what came over us and we pledge to be more responsible and to exercise better judgment in the future” might have salvaged a smidgen of the paper’s rotting reputation. Instead we have more evidence of just how unethical and untrustworthy this rag is:
- So trivial, private events from years ago are magically turned into news because a Post employee happened to be involved? That’s ridiculous.
- A non-story that gratuitously harms innocent parties does not become a valid story just because “all involved had their say.” The two women who were dredging up the incident didn’t deserve to have their say in a national paper after waiting nearly two years, and the people they targeted with the Post’s assistance shouldn’t have had to say anything.
- “The piece conveys with nuance and sensitivity” a story that required no nuance because it was old and unimportant and that it was wildly insensitive to report at all.
- “Complex, emotionally fraught circumstances” unfold in every bedroom, at every dinner table, in living rooms and home offices across the nation with regularity. That doesn’t make them news or ethical to report them as such.
- Let me pause a second to exclaim, “What an outrageous statement this is!”
- “Only” two years ago? Does the Post know what “news” means?
- Who is the Post to decide when a host is obligated to make a guest leave a party? What imaginary rule is the Post asserting? I wouldn’t kick a friend out of my party for wearing a controversial costume, including a Megyn Kelly-mocking costume involving blackface, in 2018 or now. And if I didn’t, I could not be justifiably attacked by the Washington Post. I might point out that some guests might be especially sensitive to the outfit and that it was inconsiderate; I might suggest she take off the costume; I might make an announcement regarding what the satirical point of the costume was. Whatever I decided to do, it would not be news, and would be none of the Washington Post’s damn business.
- “America’s grappling with racism has entered a phase in which people who once felt they should keep quiet are now raising their voices in public.” And, with the Pot’s irresponsible assistance, raising their voices in public over private and personal affronts that should not be raised in public, in order to gain power and publicity. That phase is called “opportunism.”
- “The story is a microcosm of what the country is going through right now.” Well, the Post’s publishing a story to shame and intimidate people who have done nothing so wrong that it earned such an extreme response is definitely a microcosm of what the country is going through right now.
13 thoughts on “Ethical Quote, Fair Quote, Unethical Quote, Share Quote…”
“Historians of the future will have a hard time figuring out how so many organized groups of strident jackasses succeeded in leading us around by the nose and morally intimidating the majority into silence.”
I don’t think that it will be hard at all. It starts with overwhelming majorities in cities, including college towns, which makes coordination easy. Then most of the big fortunes of the tech era, including both social media and other media, are allied with them and provide both amplification of the message and endless funding. And then there’s no personal ethic that they publicly pledge to, so they can’t be rightfully shamed. These are all pretty strong advantages.
PRESENCE of Malice?
I think now’s as good a time as any to report this:
Click to access spj-code-of-ethics.pdf
The Society for Professional Journalism’s (SPJ) code of Ethics. Believe it or not, it’s actually a pretty good document…. If journalists actually even pretended to give it lip service, I think we’d all be better off. A couple of choice snippets (although, really, read the whole thing);
Principle 1: SEEK TRUTH AND REPORT IT (If only).
-Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.
-Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.
-Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing
-Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant
Principle 2: MINIMIZE HARM (This seems counter-intuitive given the weaponisation of journalism, but que sera sera)
–Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.
-Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information.
Principle 3: ACT INDEPENDENTLY
-Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility
Principle 4: BE ACCOUNTABLE AND TRANSPARENT (HAHAHAHAHahahahahahahaha)
-Explain ethical choices and processes to audiences. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content.
-Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations
My first experience with the SPJ was following GamerGate, I didn’t have nearly the reaction to the controversy that some did, but I did follow some content creators that made great hay over the controversy. What is clear to me at this point was that the situation was a parallel of the parable of the three blind men and the elephant: They all fondle different parts of the elephant and decide the beast is similar to a tree, a rope, and a snake… None of which is *wrong* per se, but all of which was incomplete, and led to an absurd conclusion. One might hope that the blind men might have the self-awareness and humility to accept when criticized that the beast was actually an elephant, and not a tree, snake or rope when corrected, but the belligerents in GamerGate to this day insist that GamerGate was either a misogynistic attack on women in gaming, or a consumer protest demanding ethics in journalism.
If GamerGate was JUST a misogynistic attack against women in gaming, it amazes me that basically every gaming news outlet redid their code of ethics and included specific language regarding the disclosure of possible conflicts of interest. But I digress.
After the dust had settled, the SPJ hosted a series of panels to discuss what they got wrong, and how they could do better. On one side of the panel you had people like Milo Yiannopolous, who was a Breitbart editor at the time, Allum Bokhari, and Cathy Young, and on the other you had people like Poynter’s Ren LaForme or the SPJ’s Lynn Walsh. The event was a bit of a sham, with people like Yiannopolous not really there for the discussion so much as to grandstand, and people like Walsh there for no apparent reason (none of the people on the “not GamerGate side” belonged to organizations that reported much on the controversy, and I had to impression during the event that they were both confused as so why they were there and were woefully unaware of what was going on (One of the panelists asked for examples of bad journalism, for example, not because they didn’t exist but because she was genuinely unaware). One of the quotes from the debacle that stuck with me throughout the years was Yiannopolous’ response to the question: “What should journalists have done?” The question was asked in a “This situation was impossible, and your expectations are unreasonable, what do you reasonably think they should have done?” kind of tone. He pointed out that he got the coverage mostly right, so it was possible, and he was able to get it right be actually doing journalism… And if journalists weren’t prepared to do journalism, perhaps they shouldn’t be journalists. This seems ironic considering Yiannopolous’ subsequent activities and fall from grace, but it remains true.
And completely unheeded.
Thanks, HT—this is a COTD. I check the various journalism codes often. The profession is so separated from the whole concept, as it was once, of ethics in journalism that they are hardly relevant any more, and obviously not followed of even thought about.
As an aside, that series of panels was sent 10 independent bomb threats, and had to be evacuated about a half hour before it was scheduled to conclude.
” to report this:” = “to repost this”
“accept when criticized that” – the “when criticized” is redundant.
“they were both confused” – Gives the impression that there were only two panelists, there were 6,
“had to impression” = “had the impression”
“generally” would be a better word than “both”
Don’t worry, I’ll fix those.
My typo correction had typos. I need a direct injection of caffeine into my veins.
It’s all my fault. Just reading EA makes you prone to typos.
The story is a microcosm of what the country is going through right now.
That’s hilarious. The Post actually managed to inadvertently publish an incredibly trenchant observation?
When I lived and worked in the DC area, I discovered the little public paradise called Teddy Roosevelt Island. Went there many times, usually walking alone during a lunch break. Went there every season of the year. It was my escape, my workaday Happy Place. There was something new to notice during each visit. The forest there inspired me to an indelible, almost hyper-environmentalist passion for all wild forests – “leaf cathedrals.”
I dread for the future of that almost magical other-world, given the rage of current passions against monuments to historical figures of great (and inspiring) impact.
Love TR Island.
I must add that having had so many opportunities to walk on both TR Island and nearby Arlington Cemetery, I am so much better aware of what a lucky man I am. Walking spaces like those with a genuinely open and probing mind can change a man so significantly, and quickly, and constructively.
I am most certainly also a direct descendant of Pocahontas. (Just kidding)