Wednesday, September 17, 2008

When Ethics and Integrity Get In The Way

Maybe it’s the legacy of Jayson Blair, maybe the fifth season of The Wire has made me more vigilant for abuses of the free press…Whatever the reason, I can’t fully stand behind posting a link to David Talbot’s piece on Sarah Palin in today’s Salon without writing some kind of preface for it.

Before I get too far, and people start telling me that my concerns, which are coming in a moment, would not stop those on the Right from blasting a similar story through the media stratosphere, let me just say that I know. Trust me on this, this isn’t about beating the Republicans at their own game, this isn’t about fighting back with the same fervor they do; this is about journalistic integrity.

In the course of attaining my useless degree, I ended up having to take a couple of courses on Ethics in Journalism, and the lessons learned there have stuck with me.

First problem I have with this story is the number of unnamed sources found within, with “fear of retribution” used as the reason for anonymity. Couple this with a particularly egregious example of someone losing valuable evidence, and you have the basis for an easily deniable story for the opposition.

Second problem I have is that without those necessary items, this story becomes, in essence, a story about Palin’s personality, and not about policy. As such, it can read as a hatchet job on Sarah Palin, which is welcome in the sense that their party needs to taste some of their own medicine – a bit of quid pro quo, if you will; but it’s also pretty close to a smear job, which, naturally, is something to steer clear from.

With that evidence in place, you wouldn’t be reading this little prattle of mine. So, why am I posting it in spite of all that?

Two reasons. For all of the talk about the goodness that comes out of small town ‘Merica, there’s a lot left unsaid of the sort of petty politics that can ruin the small town gestalt. People aren’t vindictive in small towns? People don’t ostracize others in small towns? Lives can’t be made living hells in small towns? Plenty of evidence to put that dross to bed.

Imagine a person of the stature, personality and profile of Sarah Palin coming back to your small town with a vendetta against you. It may be cowardly, but going anonymous would make some sense.

The more pertinent reason is one of David Talbot’s pedigree; it’s not just impressive, it’s pretty impeccable. Does this put him above suspicion? No, but it lends him credibility; if he’s willing to put his considerable reputation on the line, which he’s doing by placing his name in the byline, then there must be something here.

It’s still risky, and with the various holes found here, it may have been better run as an OpEd, but they didn’t do that, for reasons I’m not familiar with.

Now that that’s done, give the thing a read. It’s a doozy, and for all of my misgivings, the thing feels like the truth, given what we know of the barracuda. By the time her nickname is explained, my jaw was firmly entrenched on the floor.

Read: Salon - Sarah Palin's Wasteful Ways

1 comment:

JJisafool said...

Yeah, that's a tough line. Interesting to read the comments, where some are calling for proof and others pointing out there's plenty reason to fear retaliation, and more anonymous sources are likely.