I think it's time for me to, once again, explain why I write this blog.
A couple days ago I reprinted a "Quick Hit" by former Republic Editorial Board Editor Robert Leger in which he criticized "Regular Fearmongers" (sic) for expressing concerns about possible disease threats posed by Central American immigrants. I juxtaposed that two-year old article with an article from that day's Republic about the measles outbreak that has been traced to the Eloy detention center.
Leger's hit was simply unprofessional. Here are four reasons. The use of fearmonger (sic) was an ad hominem attack and it was the worst subset of an ad hominem attack, because it was simply name calling. His use of "regular" was an example of mockery. He misspelled "fear monger" and not only were the concerns about disease reasonable, but the Republic is now also covering a disease outbreak. So he was wrong.
I think my suggestion that Leger's post does not rise to a professional standard is a reasonable one.
I then tweeted that Leger's post was emblematic of the quality of the journalism in Arizona. I didn't mention Arizona Daily Star Columnist Tim Steller in my post, but he replied to my tweet this way.
So my point that the local journalists are overly reliant on name calling and mockery was met with...name calling and mockery. The only point he didn't ratify was local journalists' propensity for spelling errors. Then the gods of copy editing smiled upon me because a few tweets later, Steller showed that he doesn't know how to spell "judgment."
I'm not here to pick on Tim Steller. By all accounts, he's a decent guy and he has a difficult job in a dying industry. Since he's a decent guy and seems especially offended by this blog, I've realized that it's probably time for me to, once again, lay out what I'm doing and why. It's been over 8 years since I wrote the original explanation. After you read this post, I'm hoping that you will take the time to read that one as well.
Below, I've posted a portion of the Society for Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.
Ponder those five points for a moment. Journalism is an important profession and it's supposed to have high standards. Moreover, journalists are supposed to not only abide by those standards, but they are also supposed to hold each other accountable to those standards.
This blog is my response to what I believe is a widespread view that Arizona journalists are not meeting either of those obligations.
In an ideal world, journalists would look at point number 2 "Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness." and would respond professionally to my commentary. Instead, in best cases, my commentary is ignored by members of the media and in the worst cases, I am relentlessly mocked by people like Tim Steller.
Ironically, that mockery has evolved. I used to be mocked because I was a nobody who dared comment on the work of professionals. (That type of mockery was a subset of what was originally called the "pajama narrative". Journalists used to say that--as professionals--they weren't going to comment on criticism from guys who wrote while wearing pajamas).
The new mockery is that I'm Chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, so it is somehow unbecoming for me to comment on media coverage. I've evolved from too insignificant to blog to too important to blog.
Yes. I'm the incoming Chairman of the Board of Regents. I'm also a lawyer, CPA, former Legislator, former Chief of Staff to the State Senate, former Director of a State Agency and former Governing Board Member of the MIHS Hospital. I'm 52 years old and I've been working in the highest levels of government since I was 26. When I sat on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives as a freshman Legislator to hear my first State of the State speech, it was delivered by then Governor Rose Mofford. I think that this background gives me some insight into the political process and the coverage of that process.
To be sure, my Regents and legal responsibilities limit my ability to comment on some issues. For example, I no longer blog about Universities or the Corporation Commission. Blogs and twitter are not an appropriate forum for a Regent to discuss education policy. That means that I'm not going to get drawn into discussing these issue no matter how often Tim calls me a "chicken."
Another criticism is that in my role as media watch dog, I am "self appointed." That is, of course, true. However to my credit, I put myself through a long nominating process and confirmed myself by a narrow margin.
Indeed, if journalists would hold each other accountable, then I would be out of a (volunteer) job. That would be wonderful. How about instead of you guys contacting me privately and telling me how right I am, you Tweet something when your colleagues fall bellow professional standards?
If you are wondering what to look for, here is a list of the top journalism "sins" with a few examples.
The first example covers a multitude of sins...unprofessionalism, name calling, personal attacks, mockery and gimmickry
This illustration from the Republic is simply embarrassing. In addition to being childish and unprofessional, Roberts is engaging in name calling. She may disagree with a lot of legislators, but printing a list of the top ten "Kooks"--and then systematically targeting them is the worst type of ad hominem attack. Roberts has used the "Kook" and "kookocracy" memes endlessly.
There are plenty of other examples. Linda Valdez constantly calls Republicans "Mastodons". Get it, the GOP symbol is an elephant and the Mastodon is like a really old and extinct elephant. I'm sure she thought that was funny the first 25 times she used it and then it was just amusing for the next 25 times. By the way, what's the symbol for the Democratic Party?
EJ Montini used to mock Governor Brewer by calling Russell Pearce the "De Facto Governor." Again, these digs are unprofessional and I believe that they lead to widespread disrespect and distrust of journalism as a profession.
The next sin is Misleading Editing. Check this out:
Brahm Resnik came close to actually getting away with this fake story. Bernie Sanders gave Brahm Resnik four minutes for an interview and when the time was up, Sanders abruptly ended the interview. Resnik claimed that Sanders had "walked out" on him and tweeted a still shot that made it look like Sanders was storming out. Other reporters picked up the (fake) story and it went international. When KPNX eventually released the full video, the misleading editing is obvious. The picture in the tweet is simply Sanders standing up and removing his mic. In the full video, he catches Brahm claiming that he was going to walk out, and admonishes Brahm not to make the false claim. Then he sits back down until Brahm leaves.
Brahm engaged in misleading editing in the next example as well. The tweet talks about Reagan trying to dodge reporters and the reporters catching her. However, the picture that goes with the tweet is 6 minutes into the interview and is not the first shot, it's the last shot of the clip.
The real story is that Reagan responded to a barrage of questions for six minutes and then left. The reporters followed her and when the elevator doors closed, the interview was over. That's what this picture represents. This is fraud and the worst type of journalistic abuse. Yet I have yet to hear anyone publicly admonish Brahm for this failed trick. He still works for KPNX.
There were plenty of reporters who participated in the interview with Reagan and when I Tweeted that Brahm's use of "dodge" and KPNX's use of "flees" was misleading, I included Howie Fischer. Check out his response.
Howie isn't telling me I'm wrong, he's saying he's not the one who said it. Howie "didn't use either word". That's why this blog exists. (By the way, I think Howie is one of the better reporters working today. He sells individual stories and so he writes actual news. His stories are often about complex issues and he handles them well.)
Tim Steller wasn't in the room with Reagan and the scrum of reporters, and I didn't mention him in the post. However, he jumps in to accuse me of conducting a "jihad." Well, there have been examples of "jihad" in the news over the last few years and I don't think it applies to what I do. That's why I started this post by listing the Journalists' code of Professional Conduct. I have asserted that KPNX used creative editing in order to offer a misleading account of the Reagan interview. Howie responded that he's not the one who mischaracterized Reagan's response and Steller says that I'm a terrorist.
Brahm responded as well....
Keep it classy Brahm...
If you are looking for another example of deceptive editing, check out this post in which EJ Montini alters a quote from the US Attorney in order to claim that then Governor Brewer's actions were unreasonable.
Another sin that journalists commit is bullying.
Here's another bullet point from the Standards of Professional Conduct.
Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.
Now take a look at this story about Senator Jeff Dial and this one about Kevin De Menna. Neither of them rise to the level of actual news stories, but they could have been interesting human interest stories about people who overcome adversity. Instead, they are both (very) long, self debunking hit pieces about incidents that are long past. They are also full of innuendo. The authors attempted to convince readers that Dial lied about being a Veteran and that De Menna tried to use some type of personal influence to reduce his penalty. Neither of those implications is true. Forget about balance. These stories have no news value and were designed to humiliate the subjects.
Here's a great bullet point from the Code of Ethics.
Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content.
How's this fit into that rule? Remember Ariel Castro who kept three women captive in his basement for a decade? Here's Benson's take on it.
Sure, the GOP is exactly like that.
Several reporters have responded that political cartoons are supposed to be controversial etc. OK, but there's still a line. Right? Somewhere there is a line? Comparing "No contraceptive coverage" to "ten years as a sex slave in a basement" crosses that line. If no one at the Republic is going to speak out against this, then someone is going to step into that breech and at the moment, that someone is me....self appointed or not.
Civility is a subset of the Hypocrisy violation. That's because the papers call for civility but don't provide it. So on the same day that the Republic announced the winners of its "Civil Discourse" Essay contest, Steve Benson drew Governor Brewer as Libyan Dictator Mohamar Quadafi. Robert Leger received my hypocrite of the year award for leading the Republic's "Civility" campaign and also justifying the basement rapist cartoon for the national media.
Speaking of Hypocrisy, remember when Channel 5 was running all those "Hold the Powerful Accountable" stories about lawmakers being wined and dined by lobbyists? You may also recall that Ed Munson was the General Manager of Channel 5 while at the same time he was the Chairman of the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. Isn't that awesome. The same guy who was nailing legislators for accepting favors from special interests was simultaneously Chairing the organization that is the most indicative of special interests--and that spends thousands of dollars a year wining and dining legislators.
The SPJ Ethics guidelines have a lot to say about avoiding conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety. They also have a lot to say about journalists' responsibility to expose unethical behavior of other journalists. I'm the only one who wrote about the Munson story.
I could go on and on.
For example, I've written dozens of stories about Republic "Fact Checks" that are actually thinly-disguised hit pieces. Is Michael Squires supervising his interns? Is he using them in order to advance his personal agenda?
How about Dustin Gardner's coverage of the City of Phoenix? Sal Diciccio made a credible allegation that Gardner had plagiarized research that DiCiccio's office had produced. Did the Republic follow up on that?
I've alleged that Gardner's series of stories against Michael Nowakowski had no basis in fact. They are self debunking and Gardner essentially made them up. For his part, Nowakowski eventually refused to answer Gardner's questions at a press conference. Nowakowski, of course, was pummeled for not speaking to Gardner.
These are serious allegations of violations of ethical standards made by credible sources. Is the Republic looking into them? Do they supervise Gardner? Is it possible that he has issues with Nowakowski that go beyond city of Phoenix business? At what point will the general public lose confidence that Gardner can cover the Councilmen fairly?
I would be happy to stop writing this blog if the Arizona journalism community would start covering Arizona journalists. I believe that they have an ethical obligation to police their own industry and hold themselves and other members of their profession to a high ethical standard.
So far, no one has been willing to cross that thin Helvetica line.