Jewish World Review
May 3, 2000 /28 Nissan, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- NO ONE PROFITS more from the business of pontificating about media ethics than the media elite. But as Mike Snyder, a veteran TV news anchor in Fort Worth, Texas, discovered, the self-appointed pooh-bahs of his profession don't always practice what they so righteously preach.
Last year, Snyder began receiving phone calls from student journalists who had read about him in a textbook titled "Doing Ethics in Journalism." The handbook, billed as a "one-of-a-kind resource" that "no serious journalist should be without," is a project of the Indiana-based Society of Professional Journalists and the Florida-based Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Both organizations peddle countless resources – including videotapes, seminars, consultants, and a hotline -- to encourage media accountability and integrity.
These are people who "sit at the Vatican" of his industry, Snyder explained to me this week. "They are my peers and I held them on a very high pedestal."
The feeling was not mutual. In case study #12 of "Doing Ethics in Journalism," media ethicists Jay Black, Bob Steele, and Ralph Barney detailed numerous sins allegedly committed by Snyder and two other news anchors who contributed money to Republicans. (No liberal news anchors with political conflicts of interest are mentioned. Guess they don't exist.)
In 1994, the authors claimed, Snyder "acted as master of ceremonies during rallies for" then-gubernatorial candidate George W. Bush "at several campaign stops." Synder "often introduced Bush as 'the next governor of Texas,'" the book reports, and KXAS-TV "yanked Snyder off the air (with pay) while conducting an investigation." Black, Steele, and Barney further asserted: "In interviews, Snyder said since he's an anchor who doesn't actively report on campaign issues, he should be allowed to do as he pleases during his time off. Snyder also said the Bush campaign never paid him for his work. He was a volunteer."
Cases like Snyder's, the authors smugly conclude, "serve as good examples of how important it is for journalists to consider both the short- and long-term implications of their actions."
Snyder was horrified. None of the authors had ever interviewed him. Yes, he had attended a single Republican women's picnic at which Bush made an appearance. Snyder apologized for creating the appearance of a conflict of interest and was suspended for two weeks without pay. Contrary to the case study's unsourced statements, Snyder did not act as emcee at any rally or campaign stop; never introduced Bush; never volunteered for the Bush campaign; and never told anyone he "should be allowed to do as pleases during his time off."
After months of futile personal entreaties to the SPJ, Poynter, and the book's authors to correct the public record, Snyder reluctantly filed a defamation suit last month. According to the suit, the authors made a damning admission about the remarks they attributed to the news anchor and the false assertion that he was a Bush volunteer. In a private letter to Snyder last summer, they wrote: "[O]ur original researcher on this case remembers drawing on material from regional and national media…[but] five years later, we can find no documentation to support that particular element of this case."
An SPJ lawyer told the Dallas Morning News this week that the authors' mistakes were "immaterial." They've hidden behind an anonymous researcher, casually dismissed factual errors, and forced Snyder to go to court to seek relief. This from the media's exemplars of integrity and accountability? The SPJ ethics lords need a refresher course on their own code of ethics, which lectures that journalists should:
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