The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) established a code of ethics to be used in practice by all media people. While there are numerous codes of ethics published by various journalistic organizations, they generally coalesce around the same primary principles. Ethical journalism centers on the assertion of a free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and comprehensive. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.
The media, identified as the free press by our founders, were granted constitutional protection as the watchdog over America. They were given a great responsibility to conduct themselves in a position of public trust.
SPJ lists responsible behaviors rooted in values based on four principles, at least two of which FOX News debate moderator, Megyn Kelly, exchanged for what could be viewed closer to tabloid journalism rather than broadcast journalism.
Kelly, the host of The Kelly File and former lawyer turned journalist, betrayed that trust on two separate occasions as moderator for two Republican debates conducted by FOX News.
Under the SPJ principle of Seek Truth and Report It, the journalist is to:
- Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.
Kelly, during the first FOX debate held on August 8, 2015, questioned Republican candidate Donald J. Trump about pop-culture situations rather than the pressing issues of national public interest.
FOX Insider reports,
She [Megyn Kelly] said Trump has called women he dislikes “fat pigs” and “slobs” in the past.
“Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Trump responded to laughter and applause.
Kelly said that “for the record, it was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell,” noting that once Trump told a contestant on “The Apprentice” that it “would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.”
She asked Trump whether these statements could hurt him against a Democrat in the general election.
Trump responded that the country is in big trouble and one of the biggest problems right now is political correctness.
He said that much of what he says is “fun and kidding.”
Endowed with a duty toward public trust, should not the debate moderator have an ethical obligation to concentrate on the grave issues facing the nation and the candidate’s solutions or policies concerning them? In accordance with SPJ’s Journalist’s code of ethics, the first ethical obligation of a journalist is to seek the truth and report it in context.
Instead, Kelly appeared to do what is called opposition research (often referred to as oppo), on Trump, the type of research a political operative does on their candidate’s opponent. After taking issue with the Trump-Rosie feud and citing Trump’s Twitter account, Kelly continues to build a case that Trump is a misogynist. Her next piece of “evidence” was from Trump’s reality game show.
The Apprentice ran for 14 seasons with 185 episodes. The episode Kelly referred to was from Season six of Celebrity Apprentice: All-Stars in 2013. Kelly would have had to dig through a lot of footage to find that particular incident.
In questioning, Kelly performed as an opposition activist for the Left’s bogus War on Women, framing Trump’s response in a sexual context of debasing women rather than as a game show entertainer attempting humor.
Brandie Roderick, the implied victim, later defended Trump,
“Like him, I didn’t even remember him saying that,” Roderick said during an interview on MSNBC Friday morning. “I’ve always had a positive experience around Donald. He’s always been encouraging. He’s never been disrespectful to me.”
Roderick putting the remark in context said that although she does not “condone men being derogatory,” Trump was on television trying to be humorous, and she did not think he meant any harm.
The next debate Kelly moderated was January 28, 2016, repeating the same ethical practice violation, misrepresenting a story, which she admits to doing in the after-the-debate interview with Ted Cruz.
Senator Ted Cruz was subject to a collection of video sound bites that made him look like a flip-flopper on immigration. After the out-of-context video-montage, she challenges Cruz on past immigration statements.
Kelly asked, “Was it all an act? It was pretty convincing.”
“You know, the amendment [to the bill] you’re talking about is one sentence. It’s 38 words. Anyone can go online on TedCruz.org and read exactly what it said. In those 38 words, it said, ‘Anyone here illegally is permanently ineligible for citizenship.’ It didn’t say a word about legalization.”
Watch video. 3:37 into the exchange on immigration:
Kelly abused another of Seek Truth and Report It practices:
- Never deliberately distort fact or context, including visual information. Clearly label illustrations and re-enactments.
Despite Kelly’s foreknowledge that Cruz never supported amnesty, she deliberately ambushes him during the debate, accusing him of lying and misrepresenting his effort and position.
Kelly then admitted to knowing Cruz’s position, (at 4:35 into the video) “I looked back at your record a lot to see, did Ted Cruz really want legalization or didn’t he? I think the record supports you that you did not want it. It does! It really was a poison pill amendment.”
For the debate performance, Kelly intentionally and willfully distorted facts and context, using sound bites to mislead the audience thereby betraying the public trust that questioning would be based on accuracy.
Roger Ailes, Chairman and CEO of FOX News and the FOX Television Stations, as well as Megyn Kelly’s colleagues defended her, saying she was doing her job.
In our culture of corruption there seems to be little attention paid to the erosion of ethics in the media. Sensationalizing debate moderating is framed as “doing their jobs.”
Professor Walter Williams authored The Journalist’s Creed in 1914. He wrote,
I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust.