Comment Of The Day: “Ethical Quote, Fair Quote, Unethical Quote, Share Quote…”

Humble Talent was moved by the ongoing disgrace of the Washington Post’s handling of the two-year old “scandal” involving an ill-designed  Megyn Kelly costume to consider the The Society for Professional Journalism’s (SPJ) Code of Ethics, which you can (and ought to) read here.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethical Quote, Fair Quote, Unethical Quote, Share Quote…”:

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.


  • 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


  • 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 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 the impression during the event that the panelists were confused as to 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.

3 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Ethical Quote, Fair Quote, Unethical Quote, Share Quote…”

  1. Appreciated. Sometimes trotting out a code of ethics isn’t exactly discussion-driving content, but I think it’s really interesting to look at the ethics codes for certain professions and see where individual outlets are succeeding or failing in part or in whole to adhere to their professional standards.

    It strikes me that as a profession, journalism is failing, utterly and completely to adhere to these standards, and while these ethics codes aren’t enforceable from a legal standpoint, failure to live up to the aspirations of a profession will in the long term rot out the credibility of that profession. This has been happening for the better part of a decade, and I don’t know how much longer journalism can remain relevant, if it even really is, while maintaining this massive credibility gap.

    • and I don’t know how much longer journalism can remain relevant, if it even really is…

      Mainstream journalism — legacy journalism — you mean, and the journalism wedded to corrupt interests. Yet there is an extraordinary wealth of fine journalism that comes from non-aligned or differently-aligned sources.

      On ‘que será será’ in that context:

      Es lo que es would work or es lo que hay would also. ‘It is what it is’ and ‘it’s what is there ‘or ‘it’s what we have.’.

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