SPJ scolds Buffalo Beast for call to Wisconsin governor

Romenesko Misc.
The Society of Professional Journalists says “this interview was underhanded and unethical” and “credible news organizations should be cautious about how they report this already widely reported story, and must realize that the information was obtained in a grossly inappropriate manner according to longstanding tenets of journalism.” Full release after the jump.

Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) release

SPJ: Remember ethics in wake of fake phone call with Wisconsin governor

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists, through its Ethics Committee, strongly condemns the actions of an alternative online outlet this week when an editor lied and posed as a financial backer in a recorded phone call with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Ian Murphy, editor of the Buffalo Beast, represented himself as billionaire businessman and conservative activist David Koch, a financial supporter of Gov. Scott Walker, so that he could gain access to the governor by phone. He spoke with the governor under these false pretenses. Read a full account from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

During the phone call, Murphy, as Koch, baited the governor with questions about liberals in the media and the Democrats who have vacated the statehouse to prevent a vote on a collective bargaining bill. Near the end of the call, Murphy tells the governor that once Walker crushes the unions and their Democratic base, he (as the pretend Koch) will fly Walker to California and “really show you a good time.”

Walker responded: “All right. That would be outstanding.”

“This tactic and the deception used to gain this information violate the highest levels of journalism ethics,” said SPJ Ethics Committee Chairman Kevin Z. Smith. “To lie to a source about your identity and then to bait that source into making comments that are inflammatory is inexcusable and has no place in journalism.”

The Buffalo Beast website was down as of Wednesday afternoon.

Though the Buffalo Beast purports to be an alternative news site with heavily slanted views that are neither fair nor objective, the fact remains that this interview was underhanded and unethical. Credible news organizations should be cautious about how they report this already widely reported story, and must realize that the information was obtained in a grossly inappropriate manner according to longstanding tenets of journalism.

SPJ’s Code of Ethics clearly states that journalists should “be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting news.”

The Code also says to avoid “undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public.”

SPJ President Hagit Limor said what happened represents “a new low” for anyone claiming to be a journalist. “This may be how Hollywood portrays reporters, but no journalist worth his salt ever would misrepresent his name and affiliation when seeking an interview. Murphy should be ashamed not only of his actions but of besmirching our profession by acting so shamelessly.”

Journalists and news organizations should take note to carefully explain how this information was obtained and take measures not to engage in similar unethical practices.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Keola-Moore/645039035 Robert Keola Moore

    Thank you! Where is SPJ when it comes to FOX? Tell me how unethical is it to deceive the deceiver? Has anyone come down on Scott Walker for being a lying, sneaking, underhanded, cheat of a governor? Besides the protestors and hosts of Americans who are sick and tired of being cheated and lied to by those who have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution of America and in Walker’s case the Constitution of Wisconsin. I’m astounded by the double standard and blatant disregard for basic human rights that is so rampant in politics today, particularly coming from the right wing.

  • http://twitter.com/HealthyBastard Bernie Goulet

    Somebody wake me when the SPJ members start doing investigative journalism that is as good as what I get from “The Daily Show”. As long as kid/journalists come out of school desparate for work, write stories for nothing for Bloomberg and Podunk Daily, realizing there only chance to make a living and get a decent paycheck is to somehow pander to WSJ, FOX or the Libs (CNN,NBC, CBS,ABC) You can forget about real Journalism. The Buffalo Beast and others are providing a real service, exposing liars – can Jim Romenesko claim the same? Read his “Bio” here if you want a good laugh at this guy, who dares to claim moral high ground. Jim – here is a suggestion, buy a mirror – TODAY! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Romenesko

  • http://www.facebook.com/dougatronic Campbell Douglas

    Obviously “Daily” was a simple mistake.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dougatronic Campbell Douglas

    I find it troubling that so many websites have condemned the “ethics” of the Buffalo Beast without mentioning the obvious lack of ethics of Walker revealed in the conversation.

  • http://twitter.com/FlaFan FlaFan

    I’ve been an SPJ member for more than 20 years, but I’m having a hard time working up the same amount of disgust. In this case, I think the greater good was met with the revelation of the governor’s tactics. And that met with the first part of SPJ’s Code of Ethics: Seek truth and report it. The Beast did.

  • Anonymous

    As the old saying on the playground goes, they can dish it out but they can’t take it.

  • Anonymous

    Judging from all results, yes. The MSM have a soft spot for hard-right politicians who have charisma.

  • Anonymous

    Right on!

  • Anonymous

    I was a journalist for over 30 years and, man, am I ever glad I was never tempted to join this pissant organization. If journalists aren’t willing to go undercover and use whatever means they can devise to really pry open the innards of our corporate and political institutions, then they just aren’t doing their jobs. Period. If some over-privileged, highly compromised, revolving-door politician or CEO gets his little head spun, that’s good. That IS journalism.

    Does anyone remember the Chicago Sun-Times’ glorious Mirage series? Now THAT was reporting, that’s the kind of stuff that justifies this profession’s existence. Instead, we have a bunch of so-called ethical journalists who think it’s a high calling to simply transcribe what our leaders want us to think, to convey to the public the message of the day behind anonymous sourcing designed to make it sound more credible, as if we’re getting the inside dope when all we’re really getting is gold-plated propaganda.

    And then the press wonders why it’s in terminal decline.

  • Anonymous

    I was a journalist for over 30 years and, man, am I ever glad I was never tempted to join this pissant organization. If journalists aren’t willing to go undercover and use whatever means they can devise to really pry open the innards of our corporate and political institutions, then they just aren’t doing their jobs. Period. If some over-privileged, highly compromised, revolving-door politician or CEO gets his little head spun, that’s good. That IS journalism.

    Does anyone remember the Chicago Sun-Times’ glorious Mirage series? Now THAT was reporting, that’s the kind of stuff that justifies this profession’s existence. Instead, we have a bunch of so-called ethical journalists who think it’s a high calling to simply transcribe what our leaders want us to think, to convey to the public the message of the day behind anonymous sourcing designed to make it sound more credible, as if we’re getting the inside dope when all we’re really getting is gold-plated propaganda.

    And then the press wonders why it’s in terminal decline.

  • Anonymous

    Well, this is simply an instance where the Regressives got hoist on their own petard. Did they not pull scams on Acorn and Planned Parenthood, and then edit the videos to show false accusations? So, someone paid them back and got the truth out. Good!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=669985636 Christopher Yasiejko

    I can’t say I would’ve gone this route, but neither do I see greater value in following the SPJ’s subjective rules about ethics than I do in learning what an embattled governor truly believes, how he truly acts, how quickly he dashes to the phone for those with deep pockets.

    They command journalists to avoid “undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public.”

    It’s that exception that applies in this case.

    Tell me, SPJ, which “traditional open” methods would have yielded such information? Until politicians speak to their citizen employers as they do to their agenda-focused benefactors, dodgy efforts such as that by the Buffalo Beast can reveal more relevant information than can the lazy regurgitation of talking points from the mouths of spokespersons.

  • http://twitter.com/akazip Mike Suttles

    Look who’s talking about ‘ethics’. Give us a break.

  • Anonymous

    IS ‘SPJ” ALSO OWNED BY KOCH INDUSTRIES ? I THINK THE “BUFFALO BEAST” SHOULD BE GIVEN AN AWARD FOR OUTING A LIAR LIKE SCOTT WALKER AND BRINGING THE TRUTH TO THE PUBLIC; OTHERWISE WE WOULD NEVER HAVE GOTTEN THE TRUTH, JUST ACUSATIONS AND DENIALS. THANK YOU IAN MURPHY ! LLN

  • Anonymous

    Journalism is dead.

  • Anonymous

    Do the Victorian Ladies and Gentlemen of SPJ, as they faint from the vapors, object to news organizations taking note of this amazing story, which was produced, after all, by pranksters? Is it their position that the mainstream media should ignored what transpired?

  • Anonymous

    gee, that’s odd, my pithy comment done up and disappeared on me…
    wonder how that happened…
    now, i’m betting we baby-citizens are not even allowed to talk about talk being censored, *that’s* how bwave the journos are here…
    because censoring comments about censorship is the absolute apogeeeeeeeeee of journalizm…
    glad to see poynter is getting with the korporate media agenda, *that* will bring back their toe-sucking jobs…
    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    artguerrilla@windstream.net
    eof

  • Anonymous

    Are you kidding? This conversation with Walker was extremely illuminating, and probably told more about Governor Walker than the entire elction campaign Wisconsin just went through. No words were put in his mouth. We learned that a state governor seriously considered sending troublemakers into a group of protesters to stir up trouble, and thinks it’s “outstanding” that the billionaire who ran millions of worth of attack ads for his election wants to reward him with a “good time” in California after he busts the “union bastards.” And that he was only planning on inviting Democrats back to fake negotiating with them, and instead have Republicans steamroll a vote while he distracted them off of the floor.

    Even more revealing is existance of the call itself. This Governor won’t talk to state Democrats, but a billionaire fellow union-busting contributor calls up, and he gets to talk to him for 20 minutes that same day!

    Apparently it’s better journalism these days to ask a question to a guy’s press secretary and have them either ignore it, or lie to you. Of course, these sorts of revelations will never be given there.

  • http://www.yahoo.com/ Bay H. Eppo

    This is the Buffalo Beast, an alternative newspaper based in Buffalo, New York.

    This is not Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast.

  • Anonymous

    Are you kidding? This conversation with Walker was extremely illuminating, and probably told more about Governor Walker than the entire elction campaign Wisconsin just went through. No words were put in his mouth. We learned that a state governor seriously considered sending troublemakers into a group of protesters to stir up trouble, and thinks it’s “outstanding” that the billionaire who ran millions of worth of attack ads for his election wants to reward him with a “good time” in California after he busts the “union bastards.” And that he was only planning on inviting Democrats back to fake negotiating with them, and instead have Republicans steamroll a vote while he distracted them off of the floor.

    Even more revealing is existance of the call itself. This Governor won’t talk to state Democrats, but a billionaire fellow union-busting contributor calls up, and he gets to talk to him for 20 minutes that same day!

    Apparently it’s better journalism these days to ask a question to a guy’s press secretary and have them either ignore it, or lie to you. Of course, these sorts of revelations will never be given there. Sure, maybe if there was some rule that governments would answer questions straight-up and never lie, that would be great. Since that’s not the case, thanks are certainly in order to Ian Murphy.

  • Anonymous

    A journalist needs to verify a source, let the buyer beware and verify his source. Walker is attempting to put into place a systematic shut-down of schools and unions and everything that makes things fair and nice in the world. This is a big deal here and America should pay attention. Anyone who shouts ethics violations about this enlightening phone call conversation should come to Wisconsin and go into the Capitol and shout it louder in there. Information is information. If leaders behaved like leaders, then there would be nothing to be ashamed of from such a call. What’s more real: the interview itself, or the proof of what’s actually going on here in Wisconsin? Means to an end. The irony of being a phony billionaire on the phone is that the truth comes out. Go figure…

  • Anonymous

    The SPJ doth protest too much? Since when did Ian Murphy purport to be a traditional journalist. And if he had, it used to be the the SPJ set this criteria according to AJR as follows “deception should be used only when all other means have been exhausted; the story illuminates an extremely serious social problem or prevents profound harm to individuals; when the journalists reveal their deception to the public; and when the harm prevented by the information outweighs the damage caused by the deception.” Has this changed? Deception was around a long time before the Buffalo Beast. Remember ABC on Food Lion? And before that, the Pulitzer winning Chicago Sun-Times story on the Mirage Bar? For many more examples, see: http://www.ajr.org/article.asp?id=598

  • Anonymous

    The Daily Beast is not exactly a journalistic enterprise, and the staff are not professional journalists in any normal sense. Isn’t this kind of prank call what radio stations do all the time? Did SPJ condemn the fake call to Sarah Palin during the last presidential campaign, which was widely reported in the mainstream media? What’s important here is what Walker said, and that is beyond the pale.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Edward-Itor/1287558446 Edward Itor

    These “ethics” may have been held true in the “old” days of journalism, but this is the “brave new world” we now live in.
    I’m sure we all here are familiar with the “Fair and Balanced” Fox News Channel. Nuff said?

  • http://twitter.com/bobgriendling Bob Griendling

    Here’s what the first of four sections of the SPJ code of ethics:
    Journalists should:

    — Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error.

    How many journalists do that? Where is SPJ admonishing reporters who don’t do that?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3THUE5M3EZWSELDWXD3NHHS6MM Jeff S

    You have to fight fire with fire…..Where is SPJ when it comes to FOX

  • Anonymous

    bwa ha ha ha haaa
    read: neutered korporate media shown up by a nobody again!
    your bullshit ‘ethics guidelines’ are ignored when ‘unethical behavior’ is used in ways your korporate overlords approve of; and simply made up when it is unapproved behavior that accidentally results in an embarrassing exposure of Empire…
    after we walk like an egyptian, korporate personhood will be undone…
    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    artguerrilla@windstream.net
    eof