It's just like the story of the grasshopper and the octopus. All year long, the grasshopper kept burying acorns for the winter, while the octopus mooched off his girlfriend and watched TV. But then the winter came, and the grasshopper died, and the octopus ate all his acorns. And also he got a racecar. Is any of this getting through to you?
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.