Journalists' Ethics and a Probable Prank

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Journalists' Ethics and a Probable Prank

By: John A. Baden, Ph.D.
Posted on March 21, 2017 FREE Insights

Nearly every profession has a written code of ethics. These codes are crafted to guide work and relations with readers, customers, and the general public. The codes stress honesty and integrity. They tell the public what principles and standards to expect, and they influence the professionals’ behavior by stating their ideals.

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has such a code of ethics. Its preamble states:

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough.

Historically, American newspapers were openly identified with political parties. They would slant news coverage to advantage one and disparage another. However outside the editorial and sports pages, today's ideal is neutrality.

Of course there is tension between ideal and actual performance. For example, libertarians find it difficult to write dispassionately when comparing government schools with independent schools, especially in inner cities.  

The SPJ code says that journalists should be "accurate and fair, honest and courageous...." This surely is tough when a journalist’s or editor's personal positions favor one party or philosophy. And few are neutral.

According to The Washington Post, in 2014 only seven percent of journalists were Republican. And the Center for Public Integrity wrote in 2016 that some 96 percent of journalists' donations in the presidential race went to Ms. Clinton.

As a result of this well-recognized preference for Democrats and progressives, journalists risk being regarded as party apparatchiks with bylines. Few want this designation; most will claim to honor the journalistic ideal of fair coverage, with today’s flagrant anti-Trump media drumbeat being an aberration.

How can editors exercise fairness while still indulging their personal biases? Editorial pages are the usual arena for expressing personal preferences. For example, consider the Wall Street Journal, where the news sections are objective and the editorial page is mainly libertarian and conservative. 

At the opposite end of the opinion spectrum, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle protects innocent readers from libertarian and conservative opinions. The singular exception is George Will's Washington Post column they run each Thursday. (They discontinued mine several years ago--strangers still stop me to lament its absence.) 

Editors also select which "letters to the editor" to print.  These cover a far wider range than the columns, and of course there are far more of them. One letter, published in the Chronicle on March 7, 2017, is amazing—perhaps an early April-fool exercise?

Whatever the explanation, it's a remarkably well-crafted though nasty piece of work. Could it possibly reflect the editors' viewpoints and ideals? Let's hope not. Anyway, here it is:


Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Bozeman has become liberal bastion

March 7, 2017

After almost two years here in beautiful Bozeman, I feel empowered to write an opinion. Our beautiful city is continuing its enlightened evolution from backwater frontier cow town towards becoming a liberal bastion and cultural oasis.

I, like most of you was shocked by the “illegal” so called “election” of the fascist in chief. I have been reading your inspiring and encouraging words in our Chronicle. Day after day, I read your opinions and have been extremely pleased except for the one of two deplorable writers supporting the xenophobic, misogynistic, racist, hater in chief. I believe with a concerted effort we can run these Neanderthals out of our wonderful “valley of the flowers” and then we can have complete liberal unity of thought.

Please keep up the great work continually writing and protesting this madman. Our never-ending attacks are not useless hyperbola [sic: hyperbole] laced, hyper-partisan tantrums; they are changing weak, deplorable reader’s minds. We can’t give this so-called “president” even a day to try to enact his mentally imbalanced agenda.

John Trask


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