Jewish World Review
Sept. 20, 2000 / 19 Elul, 5760
Textbook case of media arrogance
"PURSUIT OF THE news is not a license for arrogance."
That high-minded principle is enshrined by the Society of Professional
Journalists, which is dedicated to "stimulating high standards of ethical
behavior." Yet, this hallowed organization refused to live up to its own
ideals until it was sued. SPJ and two other high and mighty media
institutions were forced this week to admit fabricating facts; acknowledge
harming the reputation of an individual and his family; and apologize for
causing him public embarrassment.
It's a textbook case of media do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do-ism.
Mike Snyder, a veteran TV news anchor in Fort Worth, Texas, took on the
Indiana-based SPJ, Florida-based Poynter Institute for Media Studies, and
New York-based Viacom, Inc., when they published reckless falsehoods about
his appearance at a Republican women's picnic. In a settlement of his
defamation suit announced Monday, the defendants admitted they printed
"facts that do not exist," statements that were "not correct" and "untrue,"
and references to interviews with Snyder when "no such interviews exist."
The organizations will pay nearly $18,000 for Snyder's legal costs. But as
Snyder told me this week, "it was never about the money. It was about
principles. This was about challenging a profession which pretends it can
police itself, but was incapable of doing so" without being ordered to in
As I reported in April, Snyder began receiving phone calls last year from
student journalists who had read about him in a textbook titled "Doing
Ethics in Journalism." The handbook, a joint project of SPJ and Poynter,
was billed as a "one-of-a-kind resource" that "no serious journalist should
be without." In case study #12 of the handbook, media ethicists Jay Black,
Bob Steele, and Ralph Barney singled out Snyder and two other news anchors
who contributed money to Republicans.
The authors claimed that Snyder "acted as master of ceremonies during
rallies for" then-gubernatorial candidate George W. Bush in 1994 "at
several campaign stops." Snyder "often introduced Bush as 'the next
governor of Texas,'" the book said. "In interviews," the authors wrote,
"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
Snyder had attended a single Republican women's picnic at which Bush made
an appearance. Unlike his critics, he admitted immediately it was a
mistake to introduce House Majority Leader Dick Armey at the event,
apologized at once for creating the appearance of a conflict of interest,
and accepted punishment (two weeks' suspension without pay) gracefully. He
did not act as emcee at any rally or campaign stop, as the case study
claimed; he never introduced Bush; never volunteered for the Bush campaign;
and never told anyone he "should be allowed to do as pleases during his
According to settlement documents, the "paraphrased quotes were never
spoken by Mr. Snyder," but were instead "mistakenly" cobbled together by
SPJ researcher Rebecca Tallent from a newspaper reader poll about Snyder's
suspension. Neither she nor Blacke, Steele, or Barney had ever interviewed
Snyder. Mistake? Printing fake quotes from non-existent interviews isn't a
boo-boo. It's a cardinal sin. No serious journalist would still have a
job if he allowed such conduct under his watch.
Yet, ethics professors Black, Steele, and Barney remain highly respected
and widely quoted by their colleagues on everything from TV violence to
plagiarism. Tallent, who provided the bogus "research," remains an active
member of the SPJ Ethics Committee and wrote an authoritative piece on
media ethics in 1997 for The Quill, a leading journalism trade magazine.
The headline: "Without trust, credibility, news media has nothing."
Steele told the St. Petersburg Times that he and his co-authors have held
themselves "publicly accountable." Stonewalling, dissembling, passing the
buck, forcing a wronged man to go to court. That's hardly a model of
accountability. It's the height of ivory-tower
JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.
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© 2000, Creators Syndicate