Journalism Ethics: David Gregory’s Impudent Question

potandkettleHere’s a revolutionary suggestion: Maybe one should only be accorded the special rights of a journalist if one abides by principles of journalistic ethics.

Yesterday on his CBS Sunday Morning program “Meet the Press,” host David Gregory incited the ire of right, left and center by daring to ask Glenn Greenwald, the pugnacious left-leaning libertarian blogger and advocate who first published the NSA leaks from Edward Snowden, this question:

GREGORY: Final question for you…. To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?

Greenwald’s answer, essentially, was “How dare you?”… Continue reading

But What If David Gregory Shot the Pitbull?

Illeagl? Well, it depends. Just WHY are you breaking the law? Is it for GOOD or ILL?

Illegal? Well, it depends. Just WHY are you breaking the law? Is it for GOOD or ILL?

Another hybrid ethics tale has surfaced! Cross pitbulls (or whatever a reporter thinks passes for one) with the gun law debate and the District of Columbia’s refusal to bring charges against David Gregory for breaking its gun laws on national television,  and…bada bing! This (From the Washington Post) :

“The bloody paw prints travel the length of a city block, from a Northwest Washington street corner where police said an 11-year-old was mauled by three pit bulls to the welcome mat at the dogs’ owner’s home. Two days after the attack, in which police said all three dogs were fatally shot, the prints were a reminder of what happened at Eighth and Sheridan streets on Sunday afternoon. Police said a neighbor and an officer shot the pit bulls as they sank their teeth into the boy’s legs, arms, stomach and chest…An uncle of the victim’s said the boy was riding a new Huffy dirt bike with orange rims he had gotten for Christmas. The uncle said his nephew emerged from an alley onto Sheridan Street, where he collided with the pit bulls. D.C. police said the unleashed and unattended dogs attacked the boy before a neighbor who saw it went into his home, got his handgun and fired once, hitting one of the dogs. A D.C. police officer on bicycle patrol heard the shots, and authorities said he shot and killed the other two pit bulls…Of the shooters, the 34-year-old uncle said, “They did the right thing.”

“D.C. police said they are reviewing the incident and have left open the possibility that the neighbor could be charged with violating the District’s gun laws. A police spokesman would not say whether the gun was legally registered. Even if it was, using it on a D.C. street is illegal…”

Some Post readers were appalled that such a heroic action could result in prosecution. Wrote one, indignantly:

“That prosecutors would even consider bringing gun charges against the Northwest D.C. resident who saved an 11-year-old’s life by shooting one of three pit bulls that were brutally mauling the child speaks volumes about the mindless absurdity of the city’s gun laws, to say nothing of the zealous anti-gun sentiment that more broadly permeates officials’ thinking here…If the good Samaritan who acted quickly in this case to save a child possessed his gun unlawfully, police and prosecutors should by all means confiscate it. But contemplating further charges against him is as unconscionable as it is ridiculous.”

No, what’s ridiculous is to have gun laws that are enforced according to the policy that if a citizen does a good thing with his illegal gun, then it’s fine; only bad acts with guns will result in prosecutions. Continue reading

Dangerous Messages: Excusing Aaron Swartz, and the Unethical Non-Prosecution of David Gregory

brass_scales_of_justice_off_balance

To  no one’s surprise, District of Columbia attorney general Irving Nathan announced that he will not be prosecuting NBC’s “Meet the Press” host David Gregory for a clear, intentional and unequivocal violation of a D.C. law on national television. In so doing, Nathan sent the District, the nation and the public a package of unethical and damaging messages, perhaps the least significant of which is that the District of Columbia’s chief lawyer is just as ethically flawed as the rest of its government.

In his letter to Gregory’s attorney, which you can read in its entirety here, Nathan said:

  • “The device in the host’s possession on that broadcast was a magazine capable of holding up to 30 rounds of ammunition. The host also possessed and displayed another ammunition magazine capable of holding five to ten rounds of ammunition…It is unlawful under D.C. Code Section 7-2506.01(b) for any person while in the District of Columbia to “possess, sell, or transfer any large capacity ammunition feeding device regardless of whether the device is attached to a firearm” or loaded. Under the Subsection, the term “large capacity ammunition feeding device” means a “magazine, belt, drum, feed strip or similar device that has the capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept more than ten rounds of ammunition.” Under D.C. Code Section 7-2507.06, any person convicted of a violation of this Subsection may be imprisoned for not more than one year, fined not more than $1,000.”
  • “The larger of the two ammunition feeding devices in question here meets the definition under the statute. OAG has responsibility for prosecuting such offenses and takes that responsibility very seriously.”
  • ” OAG has determined to exercise its prosecutorial discretion to decline to bring criminal charges against Mr. Gregory, who has no criminal record, or any other NBC employee based on the events associated with the December 23, 2012 broadcast. OAG has made this determination, despite the clarity of the violation of this important law, because under all of the circumstances here a prosecution would not promote public safety in the District of Columbia nor serve the best interests of the people of the District to whom this office owes its trust.”
  • “Influencing our judgment in this case, among other things, is our recognition that the intent of the temporary possession and short display of the magazine was to promote the First Amendment purpose of informing an ongoing public debate about firearms policy in the United States,especially while this subject was foremost in the minds of the public following the previously mentioned events in Connecticut and the President’s speech to the nation about them.”
  • “There were, however, other legal means available to demonstrate the point and to pursue this line of questioning with the guest that were suggested to NBC and that could have and should have been pursued.”
  • “No specific intent is required for this violation, and ignorance of the law or even confusion about it is no defense. We therefore did not rely in making our judgment on the feeble and unsatisfactory efforts that NBC made to determine whether or not it was lawful to possess, display and broadcast this large capacity magazine as a means of fostering the public policy debate. Although there appears to have been some misinformation provided initially, NBC was clearly and timely advised by an MPD employee that its plans to exhibit on the broadcast a high capacity-magazine would violate D.C. law, and there was no contrary advice from any federal official. While you argue that some NBC employees subjectively felt uncertain as to whether its planned actions were lawful or not, we do not believe such uncertainty was justified and we note that NBC has now acknowledged that its interpretation of the information it received was incorrect.” Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Howard Kurtz

“Gun owners often say they want the government to leave them alone; why then are some clamoring for Gregory to be prosecuted?”

—-CNN Media ethics watchdog Howard Kurtz, in a column defending “Meet the Press” host David Gregory’s on-air violation of a D.C. gun law

Wait...WHAT???

Wait…WHAT???

This is quite a spectacle, a real time unraveling and self-discrediting of a media ethicist because of biases he either cannot resist or doesn’t detect. Kurtz’s core ethical fallacy in ridiculing calls for Gregory to be held to account for a knowing, intentional, blatant and broadcast breach of a criminal law is so obvious it is stunning that he cannot see it. Kurtz is arguing that the law shouldn’t be enforced against law-breaking journalists “practicing journalism,” because they are special and deserve to be privileged, and because journalism is so important that it trumps the law. This is offensive to fairness, equality and justice, but because Kurtz is himself a journalist, he cannot see how intrinsically unethical his position is. He cannot see the most basic conflict of interest of all, self-interest, in himself. Continue reading

The Media’s Gun Control Ethics Train Wreck Gets Its Engineer: David Gregory

Gregory and clip

The blatant abandonment of journalistic ethics in U.S. mainstream media, well underway during its coverage of the 2012 election, finally exploded into a full-fledged ethics train wreck with television journalists’ astounding and shameless advocacy of tighter gun control laws following the Newtown elementary school massacre. Can anyone recall a previous public policy controversy in which so many telejournalists decided that it was appropriate, rather than to report on a story, to engage in full-throated advocacy for a particular position? I can’t. Rather than communicate relevant facts to their audiences and allow responsible and informed advocates for various positions to have a forum, one supposed professional journalist after another has become an openly anti-firearms scold, as if the need for new gun restrictions was a fact, rather than a contentious, and often partisan point of view.

It isn’t just the hacks, like Piers Morgan.  CNN anchor Don Lemon sounded like a candidate for office, and a rhetorically irresponsible one, when he exclaimed in one outburst, “We need to get guns and bullets and automatic weapons off the streets. They should only be available to police officers and to hunt al-Qaeda and the Taliban and not hunt elementary school children.” The reliably presumptuous Soledad O’Brien decided to reprimand Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott when he refused to commit to seeking tougher gun laws in his state, telling him she hoped the gun conversation would become “meaningful” (that is to say, anti-gun ownership) before she was forced to “cover another tragedy.” In another interview, when a conservative academic argued for making guns more easily available among law-abiding citizens, O’Brien again turned advocate, telling him, “I just have to say, your position completely boggles me, honestly.”

Yes, well the fact that Soledad is “boggled” isn’t news: she’s easily boggled, and her opinion on gun control is no more worthy of broadcast than that of any random citizen on the street. Whether you agree with these amateur anti-gun zealots isn’t the point. Using their high-visibility positions as television reporters to expound on what they think are reasonable legislative initiatives isn’t their job, isn’t their role, is a direct violation of their duty of fair and objective reporting, and undermines effective public discourse. It’s unethical journalism.

Jumping into the engineer’s seat as this media ethics train wreck developed was “Meet the Press” host David Gregory. Part of the open agenda of the left-biased media is to demonize the National Rifle Association, which, again, is not their job, and is an unethical objective. Give the public the facts, let them hear the arguments, and allow them to come to an informed decision, not a media-dictated consensu constructed by people who are neither especially bright nor sufficiently informed, and who have no special expertise regarding guns and gun violence. Gregory, in full-anti-gun mode, brandished a gun magazine as a prop last Sunday to make a dramatic debating point against the vice-president of the National Rifle Association. In Washington, D.C., where “Meet the Press” is recorded, the magazine he held is illegal, and anyone apprehended while possessing one faces prosecution and jail time. NBC had been informed by D.C. police that Gregory could not use the magazine on the air, and Gregory went ahead and used it anyway.

He broke the law. Continue reading

Incompetent Sunday Morning Talk Show Host Performance of the Week: David Gregory on “Meet the Press”

"Here's a tough question for you, Rep. Waters, but feel free to answer with any damn thing you feel like talking about."

For reasons known only to the producers, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Cal.), target of an ongoing House ethics investigation, inveterate race-baiter and general embarrassment to representative democracy, was included in the “Meet the Press” panel on the jobs crisis. Waters was, appropriately, asked by host David Gregory about her inflammatory and uncivil rhetoric during the policy debate, specifically her infamous  comment last week that the “Tea Party can go straight to Hell.”  Is this kind of comment appropriate and helpful, he asked?

Rep. Waters responded that her constituency was frustrated and needed help, but instead the nation was bailing out banks. That was it. No justification from Maxine of her incendiary rhetoric, no explanation, in fact nothing with any relevance to the Tea Party or the comment in question at all. Continue reading

Newt Gingrich: Ethics Victim…Ethics Miscreant…Walking, Talking Ethics Lesson

The Ethics Lesson

I’m glad Newt Gingrich is in the presidential race, however foolishly and futilely. He is perhaps the perfect illustration of how a potential political leader’s private personal conduct is not only relevant to assessing his fitness to lead, but predictive of it. What makes Newt especially useful in this regard is that he is a Republican, and all the Democrats who are going to be sneering at his candidacy will have to square their attacks on his character with their indignant claims in 1998 that Bill Clinton’s adultery, sexual harassment and lies were irrelevant to his leadership—and they weren’t truly private or personal.  Similarly, Newt will be helpful to some of my ethically-addled trial lawyer friends who have argued that John Edwards is still a trustworthy lawyer, despite his betrayals of his dying wife, his family, his supporters and his party.

Of course private conduct is relevant to judging a leader, especially when private conduct shows an individual to be dishonest, disloyal, cowardly, ruthless, selfish and cruel—like Newt. Cheating on two wives and leaving both of them when they were battling health crises isn’t a mistake, or a coincidence, or a misunderstanding; it is a pattern, and a symptom. You can’t trust Newt. You can’t rely on Newt. You can’t believe Newt. Ask his ex-wives, and eventually, I am quite certain, his current one.

Today conservative talk radio is abuzz with Gingrich’s frenzied efforts to sooth the conservative faithful after he attacked Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget reforms over the weekend. What??? You mean Newt Gingrich stabbed a political ally and  fellow party stalwart in the back without warning? Who could have seen that coming? Oh, only everybody: You can’t trust Newt. You can’t rely on Newt. You can’t believe Newt. Ask his ex-wives. Continue reading

Answer the #@!!*&%! Question, Michele!

I don’t have the transcript of David Gregory’s interview with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R.-Min), Queen of the Tea Party, on “Meet the Press,” but it went something like this:

Gregory: Do you think the government should be shut down unless the President agrees to more budge cuts?

Bachmann: I think the fielding of Don Hoak at third base for the 1960 Pirates was truly outstanding, and definitely a key to the team’s success. Baby bok choy is delicious.

Gregory: Let me play you a clip of your recent comments. Do you really believe that the President is trying to jeopardize the economy?

Bachmann: Most people think Anchorage is the capital of Alaska, but it’s really Juneau. And, of course, Anne Boleyn had three breasts.

Gregory: I’m asking a direct question…do you really believe that the President has anti-American motives?

Bachmann: I’m now going to recite everything Barack Obama has done wrong from the second grade to the present, and in pig-latin, just for the fun of it….

Okay, I’m a little sketchy on the details. Continue reading