Monday, October 11, 2004

Note to WSJ reporter: Ethics - try some

Was rather annoyed this morning at this lede by Tunku Varadarajan in the Wall Street Journal (full story)

Beware journalism professors. As a rule (but with honorable exceptions), they are desiccated -- often frustrated -- ex-practitioners of a craft toward which, after decamping to some J-school, they direct a picayune eye, spending long hours in poky offices studying such matters as "gender imbalance" in newsrooms, "media bias" and, a particular favorite, "ethics." I shall never forget an old-timer on the news desk at the London Times, my first newspaper, who pronounced that word -- ethics -- with a Thames estuarine accent. "Effics," he would say, draining the word of all dignity ...

Such a wonderfully broad-brush indictment, without any basis that I can see, not only of j profs but, by my reckoning, of journalists themselves.

Varadarajan went off on a Delaware prof who has sued under the FOIA for access to pictures of coffins containing Iraqi war dead arriving at Dover Air Force Base. That's open to some robust debate, and more power to the writer for it. But the dismissal of the study of ethics in the process was rather oafish, unless we also wish to dismiss Kelley, Bragg, Blair, Glass, Cooke, et al. and ad infinitum (it seems) as having little to do with our current sorry state of affairs.

Yet the Wall Street Journal is no slouch when it comes to pointing out the ethical shortfalls of politicians, professionals and others. So what must we conclude?: Either that Varadarajan embraces a double standard where the journalist who would suppose to prod into the ethics of others is somehow above it all, or that journalism is, ipso facto, without ethics.

It's a losing argument either way.


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