Comments Of The Day: “Open Forum, Or ‘I Guess I Picked The Wrong Time To Start Driving All Over Virginia!’” (“Profession Of Journalism” Thread)

Today we have a rare tag team Comment of the Day: JutGory raised the provocative ethics issue of what constitutes a profession and whether journalism qualifies, and Rich in Ct, who has been on fire of late, responded with a sharp analysis.

This was all especially propitious, since the I had a dispute with my legal ethics teaching partner during our (very well-received) “Crossfire”-style seminars last week on just this question. He maintains that it is a a myth to pretend that a profession like the the law is called such for any reason other than the fact lawyers engage in it for compensation. Well, he’s wrong. Professions are not merely occupations, but pursuits one undertakes for the good of society. That is why the hallmark of professionals is that they are trusted and trustworthy, and why their compensation is of secondary priority. The desire for profit undermines professionalism by creating conflicts of interest.

My answer to the question posed by JutGory is that journalism must be a profession, because the public must be able to trust journalists for journalism to benefit society. However presents day journalists are driven by motivations far removed from the public good: their personal political agendas, the pursuit of fame and power, and the love of money. It can be a professiona, and should be a profession, but as currently practiced, it isn’t a profession.

Here are JutGory’s and Rich in Ct.’s  Comments of the Day on the “profession of journalism” thread in the post, “Open Forum, Or ‘I Guess I Picked The Wrong Time To Start Driving All Over Virginia!’”

First, here’s JutGory…

Can journalism be a profession?

My profession, law, has a set of ethical rules. It is a club, and it is self-regulating. Is it self-regulating? Yeah. My state gets about 1000 complaints per year, and about 10 percent each year get disciplined. Every year, you get a handful of disbarments. Not overbearing but I know a lawyer who got a 60-day suspension for a “non-legal” infraction and basically threw in the towel. I can empathize. It is like being accused of a crime; it can be hard to deal with. And, you are held to standards.

The press? You can’t be de-pressed? Dis-presses? Unimpressed?

In a free society, with a free press, can you have a profession where there is no way to regulate its participants.

A shorter way to ask the question: can the press be a true profession if Dan Rather can’t be barred from the profession?

Similar question for teaching. The wrinkle with teaching: can a profession governed by labor unions really enforce ethical standards and discipline?

Rich in Ct’s response… Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: The Ever So Tolerant Wisconsin Bar

Hot on the heels of the story about the New Jersey lawyer who managed to avoid interruption to his legal career after admitting forgery, we have more disturbing evidence that a profession that insists on self-regulation may have a rather different concept than the public about what constitutes “fitness to practice law.”

The professional ethics rules in every state declare that substantial dishonesty and especially failure to obey the law call into question a lawyer’s trustworthiness and are grounds for suspension of disbarment. Many states automatically disbar any lawyer convicted of a felony. But in Wisconsin, a local newspaper investigative report reveals, there are 135 attorneys continuing to practice law despite convictions for battery, theft, fraud and repeat drunken driving. Some even had active licenses even as they served time behind bars, giving a new meaning to the term, “jail house lawyers.” Another 70 of Wisconsin’s  attorneys-in-good-standing managed to avoid discipline by getting charges reduced or entering into deferred prosecution agreements. Continue reading