Category Archives: Ethics

Things I Learned From the RNC


Best meme since Hillary’s.

1. Paul Ryan is adorable, but a liar.

2. Mitt Romney is still incredibly uninteresting. Also a liar.

3. Lying has now become an acceptable means of political communications. Not fudging, but outright lying.

Seriously?

Now I’ve had some problems with Romney and his crew from the get-go. When I worked as a journalist, we had cable news running non-stop in the office. I could often be heard screaming things at the TV like “Obamacare is the SAME THING AS ROMNEYCARE! Ugh!” “That’s not what you said yesterday, dude. Seriously?” “Just release your tax returns already!” and “What happened to the ‘moderate progressive’ Republican governor who allowed gay marriage? I might have voted for him!”

Needless to say, we stopped watching cable news all the time in the office after a while.

But Mitt got the vote by being less crazy and more handsome than Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich or Herman Cain. Fine. Like we didn’t all see that one coming. When he chose Paul Ryan as his running mate, I felt like maybe I should start hoarding birth control, but it was an overall solid choice. Ok, fine.

But then his campaign started going from ‘maybe people won’t notice I changed my mind’ to straight up ‘people will believe anything I say because they hate Obama.’

Now, after watching the RNC, my problem with Romney and his crew can be summed up in a single sentence spoken by campaign staffer Neil Newhouse: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

Uh, what? Now, there are some things people called lies, especially in Ryan’s speech, that you could fudge. The closing of the Janesville plant? Eh, maybe you could technically, sort of, possibly blame that on Obama if you tried really hard. The rest?

Let’s just say even Fox News called him out on it.

The man now running for President of these United States is no better. According to PolitiFact.com, 70% of the statements made by Romney surrounding issues ranging from Obama’s policies to job rates are somewhere between a half-truth and a complete flat-out “pants on fire” lie.

He mostly avoided lies in favor of out of context exaggerations during his acceptance speech, but still couldn’t manage to just stick to the truth.

As much as I’d like to be calm about this, here’s my reaction:

HOW IN THE HELL ARE WE SUPPOSED TO TRUST YOU TO RUN A COUNTRY WHEN YOU CAN’T STOP LYING ABOUT HOW OTHER PEOPLE RUN THE COUNTRY?

(Now, I’m not saying that Obama and Biden didn’t do some exaggerating of their own during their DNC speeches. Certainly they did. But quoting a disputed study is, in my eyes, different than completely fabricating your speech.)

But you say, what does the Republican ticket get out of lying so much? Why would you do that when you’re trying to win a country’s trust?

As I see it, there are a few options.

1. They know people will believe anything if you say it enough.

I could give numerous examples of this fact, but here’s a few. There were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Obamacare has made taxpayers pay for other people’s birth control. Things that are purple taste like grape. (The correct answers are: nope, isn’t happening and purple is a color, not a flavor. Duh.)

So maybe they’re hoping if they lie enough, people will vote for them based on false beliefs. An understandable but terrible way to run a campaign.

It’s a meme sort of day.

2. Republicans are determined to make Obama a one-term president, but since he organized the killing of Bin Laden, gave kids and broke college grads health care and helped fix the auto industry, they don’t have a good reason for people to vote Republican. Especially when their candidate won’t release his tax returns, insults foreign leaders across the globe and seems to be totally out of touch with the average American.

Really all I can say to this one is that when even your own party leaders can’t seem to get behind someone, maybe you should have floated some better candidates. Even all the RNC endorsements were fairly lukewarm. I mean, after sweeping the House and Senate in 2010, you’d think there would have been someone, anyone, better out there than those who showed up for the primary race.

However, since you are stuck with Romney you could, you know, maybe have Mittens introduce his own plans? Say how he’s going to do better in concrete terms? Explain what he would have done differently (other than not make Romneycare available to the entire country)?

Stop lying to win (see #1) and instead get your candidate under control. We only have 50-some days left until the election. Get your act together.

3. They’re trying to disenchant voters so much that independent and Democratic voters get fed up and stay home.

This one sounds silly, but I’m becoming more and more convinced as the weeks pass that this could have some truth to it. Look at it this way: In the age of the Internet, no politician can say a word that won’t be dissected by everyone with a computer. And as a young voter with a brain, I’m getting pretty sick of the way the political process works in this country. I may be a Policy Dork, but I’m not stupid. (Older voters seem to agree with me based on a series of loud lunchroom rants I’ve participated in over the last two months.)

There’s simply no trust left in the political process.

Will I vote on Nov. 6? Absolutely. Do I feel the voting booth urgently screaming my name as it did in 2008 and 2010? No, not really.

Credit to http://balooscartoonblog.blogspot.com for the comic 🙂

And if even a small percentage of the Independent and Democratic voters that are hard enough to get out the door feel that way too, well then, they might just stay home and let someone else take care of the problem.

Of course, they’re already taking care of this voting ‘problem’ with disenfranchising voter ID laws in various states, but I guess it can’t hurt to up their odds. Finally…

4. They actually believe what they’re telling people.

I don’t believe this one. Partially because it’s terrifying and partially because I believe a man smart enough to have off shore banking accounts is smart enough to know the difference between truth and fiction.

Ultimately, if I may issue a challenge to the Romney-Ryan ticket, one that I guarantee will go unanswered, here it is:

Please, prove me wrong on any of the reasons above.

Just once, I would like to see a completely honest speech. No skewed facts, no exaggerations and certainly no outright lies. Just once, let’s see a headline that says: “Everything in Romney/Ryan’s Speech Found to be Completely True.” Just once, show me you can actually be trusted to govern a country.

Because we’re too far along into the age of the Internet for you to do anything else.

On Journalistic Self-Censorship and Transparency


Originally I named this post “Journalist Self-Censorship, or Could You Please Pretend You Don’t Have An Opinion?” But I figured that was both too inflammatory and too long to tweet.

But that is essentially the problem I want to address in this post.

What journalists are not

Before we get any further down the controversial road of objectivity vs. transparency in the media, let me explain something that I’ve always taken for granted. Journalists are critical thinkers. We are trained to evaluate information and fit it into the context of the world at large. And since journalists aren’t zombies, we are probably going to have an opinion. It’s inevitable.

However, the whole idea of objectivity now seems to be that journalists have to pretend to not have opinions. I’ve heard of some journalists who literally do not vote, EVER, because they don’t want to seem biased in any way. Opinions are only for the op-ed pages.

However, call me wrong, but that doesn’t seem possible. Journalists are not zombie robots. They are people trained to analyze information, make quick decisions, ask the tough questions and inform their public. OF COURSE they’re going to have opinions. How could they not? Not only that, but your opinions inform, even subconsciously, how you view a story, what angle you pursue, who you interview, how many column inches you beg your editor to let you use.

So wouldn’t it maybe be better to let people know what side of the spectrum you’re on and go from there?

This issue became closer to my heart and experience over the last two years when Walker took office and the protests began around the Capitol. Now that I am no longer a journalist, I can freely admit this: I participated in the UW walkouts, leaving my Media Ethics class to march for my professors, TAs and friends in the teaching profession with the full support of my professor. I took my poor little 5 megapixel camera all over State Street and the Square. I filmed rallies, I tweeted from inside the Capitol building, I took innumerable photos that ended up on Flickr. Needless to say, I did not support Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal.

Those photos, videos and opinions ended up on this blog. I didn’t write a lot about it, I was too upset and as I said in one post, “I can’t write about this with any objectivity, so I won’t.” Luckily, I got a journalism internship and a job working for a small print newspaper after graduation, even with those opinions out there for anyone to read.

I say luckily because others weren’t as the years wore on. One journalism student had their internship offer rescinded after admitting to signing the recall petition.

While I didn’t have my offers of employment rescinded, an intrepid reader who stumbled upon my blog after Googling the new reporter brought it to the attention of my editor about a month after I landed my first real journalism job . While my editor, in the spirit of fairness, told me he couldn’t require me to take down posts written before I reported in any official capacity, he did ask if I could delete them. The recall election was heating up and I’d inevitably be covering it in some way within a month or two.

After a night or two of soul-searching, I agreed. I didn’t want to compromise my integrity in a new town where no one trusted the reporter who was only 3 months out of school and I wanted people to think I could listen to them and report fairly on both sides of the aisle.

But I have to admit that I almost didn’t. This blog was inactive at that point. The way I saw it, I shouldn’t have to sacrifice having beliefs to be able to do my job. But worry about the appearance of integrity won out.

I also didn’t sign the petition to recall Walker. In this case the law came down from the main office in Madison. Signing a petition would be sacrificing integrity. We agree to keep our personal opinions to ourselves when we take on the role of being journalists.

It killed me to not be able to participate. It took all my strength to not pull over and sign when I saw someone standing at the corner with a drive by petition signing booth. I seriously considered saying screw journalistic principles and doing it anyway. But I didn’t. I’m thankful as well, considering the investigation that went down later on within Lee.

But that was a major factor when deciding whether or not to leave my journalism position two months ago. I couldn’t bear to spend my entire life pretending I didn’t have opinions.

In my media ethics classes, we spent a lot of time debating objectivity vs. transparency. Objectivity is the idea that journalists are neutral. As I’ve established, I believe that’s totally impossible. Here’s where transparency comes into play: Instead of pretending to be objective, let readers know where you’re coming from, especially on political issues.

My coverage of the recall election and petition signing was possibly some of the least “biased” coverage I gave to any story while I worked as a reporter. Why? Because I knew my own limitations and biases and did my best to keep them out of the story. I believe every journalist does the same.

As Reuters columnist Jack Shafer said after Gannett reprimanded employees for signing the petition:

“So the ethical crime in Wisconsin wasn’t having political views, which the Gannett code allows. It wasn’t expressing those views in secret. It was expressing a weakened form of them in a way that could go public. As long as you conceal your views from the ethics cops, you’re safe….At the core of the current journalistic codes is the notion that judging journalism requires us to judge the conduct of the journalists producing it. Instead of suppressing the political lives of journalists, why not allow that which is now covert to become overt and give readers more information to assess coverage?”