Journalism and ethics

Journalists are always holding forth about how bloggers fail to understand 'Journalistic ethics'. And when it is someone I respect, I'll listen and learn. But too often, I'm underwhelmed by what I see practiced by contemporary journalists. Take a nitwit scribbler that goes by the moniker DFO, for example. He spammed 43sb yesterday begging me and anyone else to drop by and feed him questions for his Congressman Bill Brainfade Sali puffery fest this morning. Against my better judgment, I checked in recently, if only to reaffirm my disdain for DFO's half-assed journalistic standards. Alas, mission accomplished: DFO has documented rather vividly why I take ethics rhetoric with a grain of salt.

Hell, not a grain. A chunk big enough to crush some SCHIP recipient (who notably got shortchanged in today's interview, despite it being the day's headline story).

For starters, journalism and journalistic ethics aren't exactly BFF's. They've been cozying up for several decades, but weren't even remotely acquainted in any of the centuries before that. It is delusional at best to say that pre-20th-century newspapermen had them. Hell, Ben Franklin used to invent sources in the same fashion that Stephen Glass did for New Republic two centuries later. Yet Glass is blacklisted, and ol' Ben is canonized. Compare the mythic Charles Foster Kane (or WR Hearst) to Jerry Brady's campaign precautions to see just how much has changed and how fast. Yet the republic (and news) seemed vital and healthy when anyone that bought a press could dig deep and criticize and advocate aggressively.

Advocacy and invented sources aside, the self-image many of our latter-day presswonks have of being ethical beasts is hobbled by some significant blinders. Take DFO. Considers himself ethical, but promotes his article via spam. Then wastes everyone's time (except Sali's) by asking indefensibly lame questions. Neglects to follow up when the interviewee contradicts themselves repeatedly. And then trash-talks someone that called him out, saying "he'd never take your calls". Nice ad-hominem, DFO.

DFO, there's a truism of newspapers you've doubtless heard: Never get in an argument with someone that buys ink by the barrel. In your case, this means your paper has the advantage: Brainfade Sali cannot compete with your bully-pulpit to talk about him daily. Of *COURSE* he'll take your calls, unless he wants to be bled to death by a daily barrage of criticism and second-guessing in your reportage until he reconsiders who needs whom. You're betraying your job (which isn't to make friends) and your readership by being a sycophant when given a chance to ask compelling questions on behalf of your readers. How is that ethical? And note I said sycophancy and compelling questions, not attacking Sali. You pretend like the spectrum of questions possible is black or white, when even a fake journalist like Jon Stewart demonstrates regularly that it is possible to ask tough questions and dig in further without being a hatchet-man. By the way -- you've been a "journalist" for, what, 20 or more years? Isn't coming up with interview questions on your own something you should be good at by now?

Speaking of tough questions, here's another homily for you, scoop: News is the stuff that people *DON'T* want to see in the paper. The rest is publicity. It's no wonder Wayne Hoffman called you up: he's determined that you're afraid to ask tough questions (or perhaps you're just not capable). Just like Tweety genuflects to the White House (much like the utter-freakin-vast-entirety of the beltway news crowd), you've forgotten that your job isn't to make Brainfade Sali look good. Your job is to get to the point. To demonstrate insight your readers will pay for. And to not shy away if that means you make Sali squirm a bit (or a lot) on behalf of your readers. Your job is to ask him the questions your readers haven't even realized need asking. You are there to make Sali remember who he works for. It is to report on whether he's doing a good job for his constituents. You're there to make sure he doesn't let the Club For Growth get preferential treatment in return for financing his candidacy in '06. Your job is most assuredly not to just sit blathering along newslessly for five minutes so his press toadie can brag that today congressman Sali dood sometink new on that intarweb.

A few more cliched news axioms: Controversy sells. Every politician is always working an angle: if you can't find it, look harder. Follow the money. If it bleeds, it leads.

Any one of them could have led you to more interesting questions, and more interesting answers. And if your canon of ethics doesn't demand this -- if your ethics don't compel you to act this way, that canon is as rank and worthless as week-old beans.

Do your job.

One last note to readers... if readers here don't know what a DFO is, it isn't accidental that I didn't link to him. Time and time again, DFO and his colleagues have been a disappointment. They're not worth the link or the bandwidth bits, let alone the ink and paper. Find 'em your own damn self.

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Thank you for this.

It saved me the time of doing my own rant. Without responsible media outlets democracy is in danger.

Have To Disagree With You

While DFO didn't ask all the questions that you wanted him to ask (he didn't ask all the questions I wanted him to ask either), it seemed to me that he wasn't throwing a lot of softballs either. True, he didn't push when Sali didn't answer the question that was asked, but he was acting as a neutral party. As he pointed out, he didn't ask the Clinton administration official he interviewed earlier about all the problems President Clinton had. Personally, I think any chance we get for Bill Sali to actually answer questions is good for us, since whenever he opens his mouth he says something stupid.

DFO hosts a blogging community made up of people from across the political spectrum, and I imagine he doesn't want to alienate a good percentage of them just to do a "gotcha" interview with Sali. As far as the "spam" comment -- lots of Idaho bloggers send each other E-mails letting them know of upcoming events of interest -- even "progressive" bloggers. If you don't want to get such E-mail, I'm sure a quick response on the order of "don't spam me again" will get you off the mailing lists -- and even more removed from the Idaho blogosphere as a whole. Lots of bloggers (Julie, MountainGoat, me, IdaBlue, even Adam) have tried to reach across the ideological divide by including links to bloggers of all political persuasions. I notice 43SB doesn't do that, which I think tends to isolate those who post here. That's too bad. If you spend your whole life living inside an echo chamber, you'll miss a lot of what's really going on in the world.

"When all else fails, revel in the absurdity of it all"


you basically repeated all of DFO's petulance. I'm not interested in a flame war but d2's points are well made if not well received. First I don't think anyone was asking DFO to be uncivil or get in the Congressman's face. Please don't put words in our mouth. Indeed what we got was just the opposite, DFO got in my face, very defensively. Seems to uncercut the welcome of his invitation. I mean if the guy doesn't want criticism why does he run a blog with a place for comments?

The questioning was weak. For crying out loud, DFO thought his best question was who the Congressman had lunch with and the best answer was Sali calling Chenoweth a classy lady. Hell I thought I was watching Oprah. And maybe the forum doesn't lend itself to follow up questions which would still be a valid criticism. But that's not the excuse DFO gave. His hiding behind the fact that he has "access" discloses the degree to which Sali lives in his own bubble and the degree to which DFO is willing to accomodate him there. Who does he work for anyway? It seems obvious from where I sit but god forbid I should acknowledge what I observe. For the sake of civility? Mighty thin skirts there to hide behind.

Sure blogs create there own forum which can vary as wildly depending on the host and what they want to create. DFO wants to be seen as an impartial jounalist. I'm a huge fan of Betsy Russell and very much appreciate her reporting. But DFO displays few if any of those qualities and hasn't earned the pretense to which he aspires. But how is it helpful to this discourse for you, or DFO for that matter, laying into this site as a partisan site. Its a diversionary tactic away from the very valid criticism on DFO's journalistic ethics. Or in schoolyard parlance: Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah. Sure it is an unabashed partisan site but we're hardly isolated. Were in the tubes, man. How are we isolated?

Here's Where I Disagree Again

It all depends on the purpose of the website. If the purpose of 43SB is just to give a place for progressives to vent to each other, or for Tom Paine to report on what the voices in his head are telling him about the big companies in the area, so be it. I'm more interested in actually doing something about getting a Dem Congressman elected in the 1st District. IMHO, the name-calling approach 43SB uses isn't going to convince any "on the fence" voters to vote for Larry Grant. However, if I can convince Mormons who read my blog, or HBO, that Bill Sali doesn't believe they're Christians, I might get some votes switched. If I convince someone that Bill Sali is completely ineffective through the use of subtle or not-so-subtle humor, that's good too. Flies with honey vs. vinegar and all that. The people you're speaking to were never going to vote for Bill Sali anyway. As it is, 43SB is increasingly being overtaken by RSR as the "voice" of Idaho Democrats, which is probably a good thing.

"When all else fails, revel in the absurdity of it all"

Why is this about 43sb?

The issues you've written about have been hashed and rehashed over here with me ironically advocating your side of the debate. But we certainy agree this is a partisan site. d2 provided his philosophy on the site he constructed here after I took Binky and Tom to task for the name calling:

I accept what they strive to accomplish and they have pursuaded me somewhat on the value of having a forum for talking back if nothing more than to energize so many of the base out there who are disillusioned by the fact that often nobody in the party seems to be talking back. Many members of our party are apparently too busy being polite while the people in charge of our government empty the treasury, misuse the military killing thousands of innocent lives, pad the pockets of their political cronies, and make an unstable political, economic, and actual environment for your kids. There ought to be a place we can go to vent a little outrage. And I'm pretty sure d2 or Serephin give not two whits about a competition with RSR. The sites share the same goal just different methods reaching different people.

This should be about journalistic integrity or the lack of it. This site has never suffered under the delusion that it is anything but partisan. DFO shuns the partisan label however. Yet his actions speak louder than words and its time someone called him on his frickin hypocrisy. d2 did so rather eloquently and I'm sorry you don't see the danger posed by media outlets being propaganda machines. Your efforts to reach two or three Mormons will mean very little if you are arrayed against the Spokesman Review. You've spent all your ink on attacking this place, very little on the subject of the post, and none laying blame where it lies. You may disagree with the tactics but you don't need to trash your own.

Lastly if you take issue with something I wrote please call me on it. All posts are clearly authored by different people. But don't blame me because others who post here use tactics you find unsavory. I'm just here for the chicks.

I Thought I Was The Only One Here For The Chicks

All good points. However, I would like to think that among my 30-50K page views a month I'm getting more than "two or three" 1st District Mormons...

"When all else fails, revel in the absurdity of it all"

So would I

I hope you're right, er, correct.

seems crystal clear

Insightful, Bubble. Except for the part where you hate Tom Paine with the fury of a thousand suns. I mean, even Serephin and I have had disagreements with him, but I also am (unlike the nitwit to the north) willing to look past personal issues in pursuit of any kernel or wisp of truth.

I also agree that one catches more flies with honey than vinegar. It is my deepest belief and optimism that RSR is the venue for this.

As a 4th-generation mormon (jack as they get, but respectful of my elders) I genuinely hope you work to clarify the Mormon/Christian rift. So far, I've gotta say my impression is that your conversations with Sali (and your voicing satisfaction at the diplomatic nonanswer issued by the Sali office) are politely glossing over, rather than emphasizing the issue. This impression is why I was pleased but bemused by your remark here; it hints that your interpretation matched mine (that Sali and his staff dodged the question gracefully because he doesn't think Mormons are Christian, nor do many others in his base). If you and I agree that Wayne Hoffman dodged your question, I'm bothered that you said you were satisfied at the time.

As for Sali (and Lenore Hardy-Barrett and JoAn Wood and Senator Wide-Stance and Brainfade and Idaho's Village Idiot and Little Adam and Tom Loertscher and so on ad infinitum), there are so-oo many people being polite. But when Lerch says daycare should suck to keep more moms at home, when Lenore goes 'C.A.V.E', when Sali blames terrorists and crack dealers for voting against healthcare for kids... wow. Someone's gotta holler a rebuttal.

Given the absurdity of the political theater we're witnessing, 43sb isn't after the fence-straddlers. They're the least of our worries. Someone's gotta call a spade a spade, buoy up the sane liberals ("glad I'm not the only one agog over that bit of news") and put wingnuts on the defensive.

Getting back to Tom Paine, you challenged me for a list last time you mocked Tom and I mentioned a few examples. I never saw a reply, but you seem to have ignored the evidence. Here's another: his roundly mocking McClatchy has been going on at least a year or so, right? Check out MNI: they're down from 44 to 17 in the last year. 3-year trend is 60 down to 17. Ever heard of short-selling? If it's imaginary voices Tom hears, we should all be so lucky to have our own little imaginary voices like these.

"I'm just here for the chicks!"

LOL Sisyphus! And how is that working for you so far?


you asking to be tamed?

Think you're up

for that Sisyphus?

Depends on if that is a challenge

or an invitation?

Thou canst not frown, thou canst not look askance,
Nor bite the lip, as angry wenches will,
Nor hast thou pleasure to be cross in talk,
But thou with mildness entertain'st thy wooers,
With gentle conference, soft and affable.

Which would you prefer?

That man that hath a tongue, I say, is no man,
If with his tongue he cannot win a woman.

But best beware Sisyphus ... we tend to be mercurial!

I have no other but a woman's reason:
I think him so, because I think him so.

My tongue has received its share of compliments

I see a woman may be made a fool,
If she had not a spirit to resist.

I am content you shall entreat me stay;
But yet not stay, entreat me how you can.

An infinite tongue perhaps?

These fellows of infinite tongue, that can rhyme themselves
into ladies' favours, they do always reason themselves out again.

Deem me fickle?

That I may pour my spirits in thine ear;
And chastise with the valour of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
To have thee crown'd withal.

I deem thee bad ...

They say, best men are moulded out of faults,
And, for the most, become much more the better
For being a little bad.

There once was a girl from Nantucket...

... oops, wait a minute, got out the wrong poetry book...

Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall

From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive:
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain, and nourish all the world.

I yield the blog pleasant mistress, I would my horse had the speed of your tongue.

And the ripest fruit falls first ...

Farewell kind sir!

Hereafter, in a better world than this,
I shall desire more love and knowledge of you.

Name calling from DFO

DFO's kneejerk reaction to criticism is obvious, and the inability of his readership to react with more than "who is this binkyboy dude" is a clear indication of the level of discussion at HBO. Their inability to articulate their dissent from my position (that D2 had some very good points) is an indication that there is little more there than a bunch of pseudo-intellectuals attempting to pat themselves and each other on the back for their grand appearance of "decorum".

Essentially, they are putting on a show, a show of civility and anti-sensationalism while getting nothing accomplished.

Should that be the new definition of journalism?

As I pointed out to DFO, elected officials used to be afraid of the press. Now they taunt them with non-answers, talking points and the elected officials are threatening the journalists. When did this happen? Why?

I would suggest that news outlets like Faux News are to blame. The availability of partisan news hacks like Don Surber, Brit Hume, etal, creates a situation where those that are willing to give the favorable articles and interviews are granted time, while those that would continue to push for real answers are ignored and in some ways, castigated.

Is it ethical to ignore non-answers? Is it ethical to jockey for interviews based solely on your inability to ask follow ups? Is it worth getting an interview only because your interviewee knows that you won't say anything bad about them?

Maybe we just need fewer journalists to create a need for ethics again.

I've been thinking about this too

And I think you're dead on Bink. I checked out some of DFO's credentials including the letter that described his blog as making a great community and noted that he specifically set out to be a conservative voice. Yet he hides behind his journalistic background to shield hiself from criticism calling us the partisans. What a hypocrite. I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt being surprised by his thin skin and defensive and superficial name calling, but I now think he belongs firmly in the Faux News crowd. He's not interested in substance, just branding. He is part of the problem.

And I pulled a punch

Its no secret my disdain for Wayne Hoffman who reputedly got his current position with the Congressman by writing fluff pieces on Republicans and hit pieces on Democrats while at the Statesman. It strikes me that DFO is working the same angle. Many in the profession seem to go on to work for government, the pay being better. Fertile ground for some unethical alliances. God forbid we call them on it.