Wednesday, June 30, 2010

James Taranto on Journolist

From The Wall Street Journal (ht
Remember, Weigel's supposedly off-the-record audience consisted of hundreds of journalists, both left-wing and purportedly objective. What it appears he was doing was not merely expressing an opinion but engaging in partisan politics--i.e., advising other journalists on how they should tailor their coverage so as to avoid "doing more damage to the Democrats."

We surmise that this was not an isolated occurrence--that a lot of the discussion on Journolist consisted of this sort of blatantly partisan strategizing. We're certainly open to being proved wrong, if Journolist founder Ezra Klein--who still is at the Post--or any other member of the now-defunct list would like to supply us with a copy of its archives. We're willing to promise our source anonymity and even buy a round of drinks, though we're afraid we are not in a position to match Andrew Breitbart's offer of $100,000.

The Weigel kerfuffle has prompted a bit of confusion about journalistic ethics. Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic wrote last week: "I've been leaked postings from JournoList before--wonderfully charming things written about me, as you might have guessed--and I haven't had the opportunity to use them, but would be happy to if the need arose." This prompted a John Cole to denounce Goldberg (publicly, on his blog) for his willingness to use his "perch at the Atlantic to publish someone's private emails to viciously destroy their character and career."

But of course all Goldberg is threatening to do is commit journalism. The Journolist member or members who forwarded the emails in question to Goldberg might have violated a confidentiality agreement, but Goldberg was not a party to that agreement. Neither were the guys at the Daily Caller. In fact, Ezra Klein revealed last week on the Post's website that he had blackballed the Caller's editor, Tucker Carlson, on ideological grounds.

If a group of professionals in any other industry were conspiring to serve the interests of a political party in the way that Weigel's Coakley post suggests the Journolisters were, no journalist would deny that the public had a right to know. Why should that be any less true in this case--especially since in this case, such partisan activity would be a violation of professional ethics?
I wondered what Taranto meant by "professional ethics" and found this on the Sigma Delta Chi website for the SPJ Code of Ethics:
Act Independently

Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.

Journalists should:

—Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
— Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
— Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
— Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
— Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
— Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.