Thursday, October 09, 2008

Ethics? We don't NEED no stinkin' ethics...

The Houston Chronicle is a favorite target of the right side of the local blogosphere because, although it claims to be impartial and unbiased, it really has a hard time concealing it's leftist slant on the news, and the world at large. I honestly believe that Jeff Cohen and crew simply do not recognize their own biases in print. That said, Andrea Georgsson, a member of the editorial board recently stepped off into the muck with both feet and a number of prominent bloggers about town have weighed in on the controversy.

For those who may not have heard about the situation, it would seem that Ms. Georgsson made a sizable donation (at least by my skinflint standards) to David Mincberg's campaign, and then a week later an unsigned editorial critical of Ed Emmett and praising Mincberg appeared in the op-ed pages, and was copied verbatim (with permission?) by the Mincberg campaign website. There is no PROOF she penned the editorial in question, but there is strong suspiscion she did since County politics is her normal beat. Additionally, Ms. Georggson would appear to have also made a sizable donation to the Obama campaign as well. The Chronicle has published editorials (unsigned of course) critical of President Bush and praising Obama as well on occasion. As others have pointed out, such a donation is considered a no-no in the world of journalistic ethics because it rightfully raises questions about the journalist's impartiality. Unca Darrell went so far as to link to and quote the relevant passages in both the LA Times and the NY Times's ethics policy, which they publish on their website for all the world to see and dissect. The Houston Chronicle does not do publish theirs publicly, but I have obtained a copy from a source that I will not name, but that I trust implicitly and who is in a position to have access to the document. Why Hearst chose to keep such policy information hidden is unclear. It does not appear to enhance the public's view of their ethical standards by keeping their standards secret.

I would direct you to Section H: Conflicts
H. Conflicts:
Do not attempt to profit financially from information you obtained by reporting or in the course of your employment with the Chronicle.
Staffers who own stock or any financial interest in any company or other entity they are assigned to cover should disclose that interest to their supervisor and offer to recuse themselves from any such coverage. The supervisor should make a determination as to whether a recusal is necessary. A staffer is less likely to have a conflict if the company stock is owned through a mutual fund under the control of an independent fund manager.
In the course of your employment, you may become aware of confidential strategic information or trade secrets pertaining to the Chronicle. Keep it private.
Do not become involved in groups or activities that are covered by the newspaper or that are likely to be covered. Do not serve or participate in government or partisan organizations.
Do not contribute to political candidates or partisan causes. Such contributions are often subject to disclosure laws and can cast doubts on a journalist's objectivity.
Pins, T-shirts, bumper stickers and other items used to express partisan personal opinions can also raise questions about your neutrality as a journalist. Avoid them.
Nonpartisan expressions of opinion, such as statements in support of the First Amendment or literacy, are allowable. If in doubt, talk to your editor.
Staffers in a position to cover any individual related to them by blood or marriage or others with whom they have a close personal or financial relationship should disclose the relationship to their supervisor. The supervisor should make a determination whether there is cause for concern about a conflict or appearance of a conflict.
Do not use your position with the newspaper to obtain any personal advantage. For example, do not tell someone you are with the Chronicle in an attempt to reach a favorable resolution of a consumer dispute. This does not preclude a staffer from providing employment information where required, such as in the case of applying for a loan or apartment lease.

It would appear that this is a black letter admonition to not donate to or participate in politics. That would appear to be in opposition to Ms. Georggson's actions. Additionally there is the issue of speaking engagements. The following rule would appear to address the situation:
R. Speaking engagements
Journalists are often invited to appear on radio or TV shows, or to speak to groups. You must obtain permission from your supervisor before agreeing to appear in any such venue.
Consider the purpose of the event and how your participation might be perceived. Avoid situations in which your participation could be construed as an endorsement of the sponsoring organization's or its interests.
Check with your editor before accepting any honoraria or other remuneration for speaking or appearing on a panel.
Staff members should be careful during such appearances not to make comments that stray beyond what they would write in the newspaper.

This would appear to make this speaking engagement of questionable wisdom as well.


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