Friday, April 25, 2008
Thursday, May 10, 2007
The Fourth Estate and the LawSometimes it takes little prescience to know the future. When the story came out that Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul Steiger had heard about Rupert Murdoch wanting to buy the paper's parent company, Dow Jones, you could bet dollars to doughnuts that many journalists would wag their fingers. For example, BusinessWeek's Fine On Media column had the heading Paul Steiger Did What? At CJR Daily - from the Columbia Journalism Review, the heading Steiger sat on what?! was followed by:
Well, we can stop wondering whether The Wall Street Journal would allow Rupert Murdoch to screw up its editorial judgment. That already happened."How could he have given in?" many journalists cry. "How could other editors have done the same?"
Easily. While journalists, these people are also all employees of Dow Jones, a publicly-held corporation. Whether officers or not, SEC regulations make it illegal for them to leak details of goings-on that could affect the value of their employer's stock value. This is the sort of activity that people actually do go to jail for. It's fine to sit in self-righteous indignation, but how about some realism? And how about some acknowledgment that journalists are not above all laws because of their occupation? That would seem even more in order when you're talking about laws that affect how businesses must run - and the journalists in question cover business.
There also seems to be an inherent contradiction in how journalists view the world. Usually you're not supposed to cover that with which you are involved. A writer who is an activist, for example, can't write about his or her pet cause. There's a concern that the connection could involve bias of one form or another, and in either case would get in the way of a fair story. So why do journalists get mad that the Wall Street Journal isn't essentially reporting on itself? My cynical guess is that they are so mad about missing the story that they're not thinking about consistency.