Sunday, November 09, 2008

Journalists forgeting how to be journalists: a trend

NBC journalist: It’s my job to see Obama succeed
Canada Free Press

A media analyst says MSNBC host Chris Matthews effectively admitted yesterday he was an unpaid member of Barack Obama's press office.

Matthews: “Yeah, well, you know what? I want to do everything I can to make this thing work, this new presidency work, and I think that --
Scarborough: “Is that your job? You just talked about being a journalist!”
Matthews: “Yeah, it is my job. My job is to help this country...because this country needs a successful presidency.”

Later Matthews refused to get drawn into the conversation about turmoil in the OBama Administration, instead saying that as a reporter he was unwilling to "question motives."

No it is not the journalists' job to help his country by helping the government. It is helping the country by informing the citizens.

The Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics says Journalists should (among other things):
— Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting,
— Be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know,
— Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.

It is NOT the journalists' job to "help" the government. It IS the journalists' job to present news and hold the government accountable. Chris Matthews is not doing his job.

In another case of media failure this week, I was disappointed in Newsweek and Fox News. They both broke the cardinal rule about anonymous sources and failed to correctly assess the information they were given as not newsworthy.

Newsweek reported that an anonymous inside McCain staffer claimed that Palin sailed into the room where Steve Schmidt and Mark Salter were waiting wearing nothing but a towel, that Governor Palin didn't know that Africa was a continent, nor did she know the countries in NAFTA, among other things. These turned out to be lies. Mark Salter called Greta Van Susteren On The Record show and well, went on the record and said the towel thing “Never happened.” Turns out the other items the "anonymous sources" said were lies too.

That's the danger of allowing anonymous sources to pass as news. The items reported by Newsweek and Fox were rumors. Neither media got on the record comments. Neither looked at any documents or receipts or corroborated the anonymous source's claims. Neither went to McCain or Palin to ask them for their side. The SPJ Ethics Code says:

— Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
— Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
— Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability.
— Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity.

Newsweek & Fox failed on all counts above. The media has forgotten what their job is and how to do it.

Walter Lippmann said once that "There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil." Unfortunately Chris Matthews, Newsweek and Fox News shamed themselves...and the devil is laughing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Matthews should not call himself a journalist. All reporters are humans and by nature have a bias. I had one when I wrote for the Monument but good journalism makes it nearly impossible to discern the view of the reporter in their news coverage. That's because facts are facts and the real role of a journalist is to keep their opinions to themselves when they write and just write the facts.