Today is

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Media Outlets Apply Double Standard For Their Own Political Activity

TMJ4 Excerpt:
We expect anyone involved in the production of news to avoid situations that could compromise our integrity. We don't allow news employees to sign nomination papers for candidates, display yard signs or take part in a political campaign.

The Janesville Gazette, like many Wisconsin newspapers, regularly writes political action editorials and endorsements for candidates, referendums and on state and local issues. These might be considered little pet projects to newspaper editors and their owners, but for subscribers the newspaper's finished product is in many ways the equivalent of having a partisan's front yard full of political posters rolled up, and thrown at the foot of your doorstep. Whether you agree with or even bother to read their editorials or policy statements really doesn't matter because if you're subscribing to get the local news, you're still paying for the paper's broadcast distribution and entire political agenda.

"I write editorials--opinions--on behalf of the Gazette Editorial Board. That's my role; no one else in the newsroom, except for Editor Scott Angus, ever writes editorials. The policy against yard signs covers all of us collectively." -- Greg Peck, Gazette Opinion Editor

Their paycheck ethics policy prevents newspaper employees from participating in political activity as private citizens while at the same time, their ethics policy paycheck pays them to write and distribute political propaganda. It's their job!

This blatant hypocrisy now sits at the core of a fear and smear witchhunt in Wisconsin against political candidates, media employees and private citizens involving the Scott Walker Recall Petition data bases, so it comes as no surprise that it's conducted by the most professionally partisan and activist institutions in America - mainstream media news outlets. But woe onto those who seek to pull the mask off of secret campaign cash donors and boycott their businesses - why that's greasy union thuggery that has no place in a civil democratic society.

Nevertheless, the hypocrisy continues.

Uppity Wisconsin Excerpt:
According to Editor John Smalley, when you are in the newspaper biz, you "keep your politics to yourself" and maintain "strict neutrality in all things political." "It’s a common policy," Smalley says and "in place at nearly all credible news organizations."


Blogging Blue - What a bunch of grade A hypocrites at WTMJ

Blue Cheddar - Wisconsin recall witch hunt hits Milwaukee’s right wing

Crawford's Take - Charlie Sykes, CRG, Ament, Walker and the WTMJ Hypocrisy

Uppity Wisconsin - Owners of Wisconsin State Journal are Big Donors to GOP and Union Busters


Anonymous said...

Lou, you seem to be up in arms over something that is common across the country and has been for years. When people take a job as a journalist, they know that there are things they can't do - among those is be active in a political party, endorse candidates and put up candidates' signs in their yards.

Greg Peck writes the editorials after the editorial board votes on a position. He doesn't cover news events and write about them. Neither do reporters for the Gazette (or other papers) write editorials. The idea is to keep those elements of the paper separate.

I personally know most of the people who work in the newsroom at the Gazette. The vast majority of them would consider themselves on the left side of the political spectrum. As professionals, they work hard to keep their political opinions out of the stories they write.

You probably think that once the stories are written editors change words and phrases to give the stories more of a political leaning. As someone who spent years in the publishing industry, I can tell you that it doesn't work that way.

To think that newspaper owners have that much influence over the daily stories that are printed is a disservice to the people who write those stories.

Lou Kaye said...

Anon, judging by your comment here, I don't think you know what the problem is and, I also think that no matter how many times you reread the above post, you probably won't get the gist of it. No offense intended. No matter how far to the left journalists may be or how editorial boards arrive at an opinion, the graphic is what many subscribers see. Why is that? It must be that newspapers, as an institution, believe they are a person and entitled to cast and disperse their own opinion. That very well could be, but this perception is one of the consequences the industry will have to deal with. You could say people don't have to buy it, but the residents of many small cities like Janesville have no other choice for local news. The subscribers and the ad buyers are paying for an institutioanalized political platform, a political activism not initiated or drawn upon from free will, but one that is paychecked. Good newspapers, and this is only my opinion, should be carriers of free political opinion and expression. They should not be the expression, because to do so is a vast abuse of the power and trust they are granted with.

Ron Legro said...

Ethics policies for journalists are a good thing IN PRINCIPLE, but the entire concept has been swamped by the convergence of media and the unequal application of the standard.

It's not just that executives and bosses still get to openly politick (and not just within the medium they control) while the grunts working for them must swear off similar activity. It's that the structure of media organizations now makes hash of the differences.

For instance, WTMJ news reporters are supposed to be completely apolitical in public, yet "entertainer" Charlie Sykes, right-wing talk show host on the station but a former editor and journalist, can say whatever he wants, even hang out with Republicans at their events and pursue campaigns on their behalf.

Exposed to these inconsistencies, the public is expected to believe that ethics standards for most staffers and journalists but no ethics for others at WTMJ including Sykes and other right-wing talk-show hosts is consistent and understandable. It isn't.

If you think about it, this looks like the equivalent of the GOP's Voter ID scheme, which tasks some disfavored voters while effectively excluding other voters more in favor. Indeed, it's analagous to the Citizens United ruling: Because the Supreme Court majority now thinkks speech equals money, rich corporations get to have far more speech than average citizens, the latter of whom must jump through more legal hoops to have their say, much less vote without being hassled.

When I was a reporter and editor decades ago, I followed the ethics standards of my employers, but even then the standards were not equally applied. Such standards would be a worthy endeavor if they were fashioned with more uniformity and transparency. Otherwise: This is all just another gotcha game. Journalists can't really be objective, they can only strive to be fair. The public is not fooled by internal rules that require journalists to pretend to the impossible standard of objectivity. Perceptions are important, but the actions of media owners and publishers and broadcast executives more than cancel out any perceptions of interest conflicts by rank-and-file reporters. Once again, if the elite among us can't take it, they should stop dishing it out.

Anonymous said...

Newspapers have printed opinion pieces for hundreds of years. Newspapers have also printed news stories for hundreds of years.

To think that readers can't tell the difference and see it all lumped together as one big message is an insult to the intelligence of the readers. The page where the editorials are printed says "OPINION" on it in great big letters.

Have discourse with the opinion page, but to discredit the reporters and other non-editorial page staff in those debates is targeting those who have nothing to do with where your grievance lies.

Lou Kaye said...

Anon 1:13 PM, I don't think anyone here is attacking the journalists. Au contraire, this post is in total support of the employees. In fact, I would have to doubly praise many "lefty" editors at newspapers like the Gazette whose editorials show no sign of their personal politics, but of a politics completely different. The paychecked side.

Anonymous said...

Judging by the Gazette's political endorsements, they do a great job at suppressing their Lefty staff.

Anonymous said...

The Gazette amazes me from a business standpoint. They get very few paid election ads. Instead they print for free letters written by campaign staff and then given to family and friends to mail in under their names. Judy Robson was famous for this. Why pay for something when you can get it for free.

Anonymous said...

Newspapers may have been printing opinion pieces for hundreds of years, but that doesn't make the practice ethical. Newspaper customers across the country are complaining about newspaper endorsement of political candidates. The papers that value their customers (money) have stopped the practice. The Gazette has not.

The same sentiment applies to the Opinion section. A newspaper that claims to have unbiased or fair reporting cannot claim to have an unbiased or fair newspaper. No matter the number of times Scott Angus tells us his news room is unbiased and/or fair, the readers will always have doubts, as long as the publisher chooses to print their opinions.

Post a Comment