Last Saturday I found myself driving to the Society of Professional Journalists’ “Excellence in Journalism” convention. As the director of “Rage Against the Media,” an activist group dedicated to fighting media corruption and to promoting responsible journalism, attending this conference was clearly something I had to do. After all, this was the organization that crafted a code of ethics that is as thorough as it is admirable, and which, if it were adhered to, would be reflected in exactly the kind of reporting that Rage Against the Media is fighting for.
The preamble to their Code of Ethics states:
“Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society’s principles and standards of practice.”
Just imagine if all journalists adhered to this! Nobody would have deliberately altered the George Zimmerman 911 call, or deliberately chosen to publish pictures of cute little Trayvon, and they certainly would not have perpetuated the lie that this cute little boy (who Barack “no public school was ever good enough for me or my daughters” Obama absurdly suggested could be just like his son, if he were to have one) was just out for a bottle of ice tea before being gunned down in cold blood by the racist Zimmerman.
If all journalists followed this code, “seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events” we would all long ago have been informed about Fast and Furious, the events in Benghazi, not to mention Obama’s own records. We would have been apprised of the costs and consequences of Obamacare when it was still a bill, of actual statistics on inner city crime and joblessness. If journalists took this code seriously, this nation would not have sunk to the low it has: Economically and culturally we would be stronger, we would be less vulnerable to those trying to destroy us from within and without, and we’d be looking at a brighter future rather than the bleak one we feel burdened by.
So while this code is worthy of our admiration, there is no question that those journalists who seem to be making the decisions about what is “news” and how to report it simply disregard these lofty goals.
This convention, then, was the perfect opportunity to at least take a look at the divide between these goals and the reality – that not enough journalists actually commit responsible journalism.
To this end, I sat in on the Freedom of Information Committee and the Ethics Committee meetings and in both of them, everything I heard was just exactly what you would want to hear. The FOI committee is concerned about all the roadblocks thrown up by every level of government to impede journalists’ access to information, and the Ethics committee is the one which crafted the admirable Code.
Interestingly, both committees expressed anger at Senator. Feinstein for insisting on a “ridiculously” narrow definition of “journalist” in the context of the Shield Law and in fact, a resolution was passed against her efforts at this. This resolution reads, in part:
WHEREAS, the passage of a federal shield law to protect U.S. journalists from undue and suppressive court actions has hinged for many years on the definition of a journalist and;…
WHEREAS, the Society has long disavowed attempts to define “journalist’ in a strict sense so as to promote inclusiveness within our ranks, and;…
WHEREAS, any attempts by U.S. Sen Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., or any other federal lawmakers to create a restrictive definition of “journalist” in the context of a shield law is an affront to journalism and to First Amendment rights of a free press;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Society of Professional Journalists strongly rejectes any attempts to define a journalist in any way other thn as someone who commits acts of journalism and admonishes Congress for stalling long overdue protection for journalists.
This Resolution was passed unanimously by the delegates of the SPJ. While Senator Feinstein (and others) seems to be trying to use the Shield Law to shut out new media, the SPJ is fighting against her efforts to hijack the protections that they feel they need, and even admonished her by name. “Shocked” is too mild a word for my reaction to this.
The Ethics Committee was equally heartening, frankly. The discussion focused on the code – in particular, to what extent it requires updating or modification. Overall, there was a sincere commitment to creating a high standard for journalists.
However, while there was considerable high-mindedness, one issue was never mentioned: What does the Society of Professional Journalists do when its members violate this admirable code? What are the consequences of NOT reporting honestly, of not pursuing the truth, of deliberately misleading readers and/or viewers? What does this ethical society do in the face of breaches of these ethics? The answer, it seems, is “Nothing.”
Does this code mean anything at all, or is it simply a set of “suggestions” without consequences? From what I gathered, this question has, until now, not been addressed. Good thing I went, then.
I attended a workshop on Ethics in Journalism that was charming in its naïve assumption that journalists pull their hair out about whether or not to air a 9-1-1 call, or to go with a preliminary story without all the details. They discussed the unfortunate consequences of hurting an innocent person’s reputation by running with a story without sufficient corroboration. At no time, however, were the issues of intentional harm, dishonesty, misreporting brought up.
After the session, I asked the speaker about those instances where journalists deliberately altered the narrative, manipulated evidence, blacked out entire stories. Zimmerman, Gosnell, Benghazi –these are topics that even an organization that considers ideas of ethics ignores. To his credit, the speaker was chagrinned, but also seemed caught off-guard. There is no escaping that SPJ is a progressive echo chamber, and that members seems steeped in the liberal cesspool that they themselves create.
At one point or another, in each of the meetings I attended, someone made an anti-GOP quip with which everyone appeared to be in total agreement. In the FOI meeting, one of the committee members was talking about access to information, then scoffed at how reporters weren’t given the truth about “weapons of mass destruction in Iraq” – totally ignoring the subsequent 8 years, plus the fact that chemical weapons that we KNEW had been gotten out to SYRIA have in fact been found there and, in fact, it’s possible that these are the ones now being used. Why are these “journalists” not in fact looking into this, rather than still being focused on “Bush’s war? What about that code about pursuing truth? How about instead of dredging up this kind of nonsense, they deal with the Benghazi shut-out, the Fast and Furious end-run, Valerie Jarrett’s role in the administration, and and nearly everything out of this White House? In fairness, they were concerned about the AP records seizure, but their knee-jerk is anti-Bush.
In the Ethics meeting, there was uniform derision at the GOP’s fighting against Obamacare – that the right seems to be just saying “no” without any alternative. To the left, if it’s not a government program of massive proportions, then it’s not a plan, it’s not a solution. Everyone in that room was of one mind: Obamacare is good, fighting against it is bad, and the GOP has no alternative worth considering. They don’t consider that we say no to these insane problem-exacerbating power-grabbing, multiple-tentacled government overreach “programs,” and that to replace it with another power-grabbing government program that only differs in detail is not the answer. It’s a “conflict of vision” of what a solution even means, and those who even strive for ethics in journalism are blind to the reality of a different view. Their job, as I knew going in, is to silence it, even as they hide behind their “code of ethics.”
I don’t have any illusions that I saw all the relevant aspects of this Society, but what I did see is this: that despite the efforts of many there to define and uphold standards, a liberal mind-set still colors the actions taken. The gap between word and deed is a direct function of the individual and collective political mind-set, and while the codified standard of ethics is one to be admired, the fact that it is systemically violated seems to trouble them not a bit.
The groundwork for great journalism has been laid – let’s remind them of their responsibility. Rage Against the Media is starting a campaign to use the SPJ’s own “Ethics Advice Line for Journalists” to hold journalists accountable, among a number of other initiatives. The only way to get the kind of reporting that even the SPJ acknowledges we need is to hold these journalists accountable. Otherwise, we’ll continue to get the lies, corruption and depravity that are the hallmarks of today’s mainstream media.