Saturday, November 17, 2007

Yes, it IS called a free press!

At The Rhetorica Network on Media/Political bias, Andy Cline wrote:

"There is no such thing as an objective point of view.

No matter how much we may try to ignore it, human communication always takes place in a context, through a medium, and among individuals and groups who are situated historically, politically, economically, and socially. This state of affairs is neither bad nor good. It simply is. Bias is a small word that identifies the collective influences of the entire context of a message...."

Cline continues:

"Journalists, too, speak from political positions but usually not overtly so. The journalistic ethics of objectivity and fairness are strong influences on the profession. But journalistic objectivity is not the pristine objectivity of philosophy. Instead, a journalist attempts to be objective by two methods: 1) fairness to those concerned with the news and 2) a professional process of information gathering that seeks fairness, completeness, and accuracy. As we all know, the ethical heights journalists set for themselves are not always reached. But, all in all, like politics, it is an honorable profession practiced, for the most part, by people trying to do the right thing...."

So, when a blogger at the Community Blogs - Ozarks Right wrote he was:

"...amazed that a citizen would criticize a news organization for ferreting out a story on violations of a SUNSHINE LAW..."

I had to wonder why and question whether he might have missed the point, entirely. I don't know that he was speaking of me when he talked about "a citizen" but I seemed to be among few (maybe the only) questioning why Tony Messenger, the Editorial Page Editor of The Springfield News-Leader has seemed so intent on taking Eckersley's side when the latter claimed he was fired for calling attention to the Governor's email retention policy. I've never questioned or objected to any "news organization for ferreting out a story" on any subject, let alone a story on violations of the Missouri Sunshine Law.

In fact, David Burtond, member of the Missouri Press Association, Southwest Missouri Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, Ozarks Press Association and the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors recently wrote, Journalists Should Expose Unethical Practices of Others in the News Media. Burtond was citing The Society of Professional Journalist's Code of Ethics. He wrote:

"Right under the heading of "be accountable," the code says journalists should "expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.""

From Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics (this is not a complete list, I selected from it to make a point but, please, do follow the link to read the entire list):

--Deliberate distortion is never permissible.Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
--Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
--Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story
--Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
--Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.
--Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
--Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
--Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
--Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.

Certainly, the first amendment to the constitution reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

And, I'm not formally announcing that I would like to take David Burtond's charge of holding local media accountable for perceptions of ethical violation and I should point out that The Society for Professional Journalists code of ethics is followed voluntarily by members of the media, they are not required to follow it.

The readers of Messenger's combined articles, columns and blog entries on the Eckersley/Blunt administration/Sunshine Law affair can decide whether his writings have been entirely ethical or not but certainly, I have a right, and some might even say an obligation to consider and question that aspect of the coverage.


Jason said...

I think the reason some might be taking issue is that you immediately were against Messenger on this issue. You didn't really come out and say that it's possible Tony was right but rather left the impression (legit or not) that you were in line with the Paul Seales and others that are doing nothing but defending the Governor with every bone in their body.

I know you can see where someone would think that if you are jumping on the guy reporting and asking questions about the governor why they would think you have an issue with the media uncovering evidence against the Governor. (Again, they may not be right in their impression but you can see where they would get impression.)

Jacke M. said...

Hey, Jason,

Sure, I can see where people might jump to that conclusion (or have a knee jerk reaction). It happens all the time. :)

Don't you find people generally believe what they want to believe about you?

Tish said...

Hiya, Jacke. Gosh, reading the various posts, blogs, editorials, musings, comments and news articles regarding the Blunt/Eckersley/SS Law issue is enough to tire anyone out!

Haven't been keepin' up as I should. Darned colds have a way of doin' that to a body. This one keeps reinventing itself, it seems, so it can torture me as much as possible before my white blood cells wipe it out of existence. :(

Regardless of my knowledge, or lack thereof, of every single detail of this issue, I am able to speak knowledgably on several other issues:

First, questioning Messenger's obvious penchant for jumping on the anti-Blunt/Republican wagon and "reporting" with all his might that a law has been broken (not that it "might" have been broken), someone lied (not that someome "might" have lied), etc., in no way, shape, or form equates to being "against Messenger" and/or "for the Governor" on the issue. If I remember correctly, you haven't yet labeled anyone guilty of anything in the Blunt/Eckersley/SS Law issue, EXCEPT Messenger for the obvious bias in his reporting. You, unlike Messenger, have taken the "wait and see" approach - something many other "journalists" could learn from you, IMO. You HAVE taken Messenger to task for virtually convicting Blunt and a few others based on nothing but conjecture. Hats off to you, Sistah!

Even though the AP-reported internal memo discussing the SS Law provided by an unnamed person who leaked it without permission (where's Messenger's outrage over that?! :) produced no legal smoking gun, which Messenger seems to find in every rumor, innuendo, and whispering, he touts it as "proof" that Blunt is lying, a law has been broken, etc. All this without the proof that the memo was received or read by those to whom it was addressed, without any proof that it was typed by and when the unnamed person said it was typed and by whom. Even the AP admits that the memo is not "clear cut" in its assessment of the law, and that there is no proof it was read by the Governor or anyone else, for that matter, aside from the unnamed person leaking it against government policy, which Mr. Messenger doesn't seem to have a problem with, and its alleged author. If the memo didn't reach Blunt and he wasn't aware of its existence, then Blunt COULD NOT be considered to have lied when he said the issue was never discussed with Eckersley. Since Messenger has already invested so much time and energy portraying Blunt and others as liars and law-breakers, he cannot afford to consider these VERY PERTINENT aspects or ask the proper questions; questions which, I dare say, necessarily need answered if truth is sought.

Further, Mr. Eckersley's wording in the document, as quoted by the AP, leaves much room for doubt as to the advice Eckersley gave. As an attorney, he would have known that were the issue as cut and dry as he and Messenger would like to pretend, his memo would have been much more forceful in reiterating the law, as in "emails SHALL (or MUST, or WILL) be public documents." Instead, this legal beagle said, "emails can be public documents." Legally, that is about as un-cut-and-dry a statement as one can make, leaving lots of wiggle room for interpretation of the law. The AP condescendingly writes off Eckersley's wishy-washy discussion of the law as his attempts to be a "loyal" attorney. And while Messenger, the journalist, who apparently is not to be questioned or held accountable, is yelling "AHA! Blunt and his cronies are liars!," the memo itself, according to the AP, allegedly states, "the reporter is in error to assume specific e-mails mentioned in the article are public." So, which is it?! Was Eckersley lying when he said he advised that ALL emails are public documents, or was he lying to Blunt's administrators when he said the reporter was in error to "assume specific emails mentioned in the article are public?" Those two statements DO NOT FIT.

Second or third or D, I don't remember :), you have, at no time, "jumped" on Messenger for "reporting and asking questions" about the Governor. You HAVE jumped on him regarding the glaring display of unobjectivity in his reporting and "asking questions," the latter of which has been all too often neglected by Mr. Messenger, IMO. Had he actually been ASKING QUESTIONS instead of making accusations and "AHAs!" to fit his preconceived notions, you wouldn't have had anything Messenger-related to write about, now, would you?

Okay, I've forgotten my points four or five, or E through Z. The cold meds have kicked in and it has now become dangerous for me to be on this contraption any longer. :)

LUV YEW, Jacke. This hillbilly thinks you ROCK! Keep up the good journalistic work and keep pointing out biased, one-sided spoon-feeding passed off as "news" when you see it. You're doing a great service for your community by doing so.