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Was I wrong about journalists?

Maybe I spoke too soon.

On the same day I wrote and published an entry assuring public affairs officers that most reporters are responsible professionals just trying to serve the public, media watchdog Jim Romanesko published this item: A reporter for the Daily Caller apparently threatened to make up a source’s response to a question if the source didn’t respond to inquiries.

The question pertained to whether Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, still has confidence in Attorney General Eric Holder in the wake of the Fast and Furious scandal. Reporter Matthew Boyle wanted a comment from Brad Woodhouse, communications director of the Committee. And when he didn’t get one, Romanesko reports, Boyle told him: “I’m giving you until 10 a.m. tomorrow to answer this question, then I’m reporting Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is not supporting Holder. “

When other reporters asked Boyle to explain what looks like a blackmail attempt, he told BuzzFeed that wasn't the case. “I wanted to give Brad plenty of time to respond before we reported, correctly, that the DNC would offer The Daily Caller no verbal support for Eric Holder," he said in BuzzFeed's report.

Well, maybe. But his e-mail to Woodhouse clearly says that what he planned to report was that Wasserman Schultz “is not supporting Holder,” which is different from “would offer The Daily Caller no verbal support…” One is a definitive statement of a position, the other expresses insufficient information. Not really the same thing.

So there was that, and then there were some reader comments on my earlier post telling me that I must not know how many reporters operate these days. One anonymous commenter advised me, “You need to survey the public affairs specialists on the crap journalists pull.”

OK. Challenge accepted. Public affairs officers, private-sector PR pros, and reporters too … comment here or e-mail me your stories at mhardy@fcw.com. Am I too idealistic about the high ethical standards of many in my field? Or are the senationalizers and ethically-challenged a rare exception?

If enough people have enough to say, I’ll highlight the best stories in a future entry and possibly in our print edition as well. 

Posted by Michael Hardy on Mar 15, 2012 at 12:18 PM


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Reader comments

Tue, Mar 27, 2012

This example isn't surprising. For PAOs, I think the key is the environment to which your organization belongs. I've always found the defense trade publication reporters to be objective, fair and work hard to be accurate. However, the higher visibility the story (and when national level publications take interest), the reporters may or may not be knowledgeable about the issue at hand. Or they may be receiving bad gouge by detractors with an agenda, knowing full well there are some facets of issues that, from the government perspective, are extremely complex or can't be discussed in a public forum.

Mon, Mar 19, 2012

It has been known for decades that many people studing to become journalists say that their intent is to "change the world". In other words, they want to become political activists under the guise of being reporters. As an avid reader of the news for over 30 years I can tell you that much of the so-called news is really being written by political activists (a vast majority being liberal - as verified by over 50 years of surveys) calling themselves reporters. If public affairs specialists were dealing with only reporters and not activists they would have a much better impression of journalism.

Fri, Mar 16, 2012 Martha Virginia

It is entirely believable to me that Boyle said he would say Wasserman Schultz "would offer The Daily Caller no verbal support" and Woodhouse heard/interpreted it as Wasserman Schultz "is not supporting Holder." That sounds like a normal communication gap in my household.

Thu, Mar 15, 2012 Bob

Oh my God! He was going to report that Wasserman was unwilling to support for for Eric Holder, when in fact that's what Wasserman was doing? Looks like Boyle forced her to make a statement in support of Holder, and she's mad that she had to.

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