Each time a new scandal threatens the credibility of the entire media industry, journalists and editors argue that only self-regulation can hold people accountable without threatening freedom of speech. We do not disagree. But there seems to be some confusion about what self-regulation and accountability means. A scandal in American media last week provides a useful example of how media can hold its journalists to high standards.
The New York Times reported last weekend that American news website Politico suspended a top reporter for making negative comments about politicians on his Twitter time line.
The editors did not stop at suspending the popular reporter, either. They sent a memo to all staff explaining that everyone will be held to the highest standards of objectivity.
Politico journalists have a clear and inflexible responsibility to cover politics fairly and free of partisan bias. This expectation extends to all of the public platforms in which we and our reporting and analysis appears, including cable TV and social media platforms like Twitter.
Regrettably, an unacceptable number of Joe Williams’s public statements on cable and Twitter have called into question his commitment to this responsibility. His comment about Governor Romney earlier today on MSNBC fell short of our standards for fairness and judgment in an especially unfortunate way.
Joe has acknowledged that his appearance reflected a poor choice of words. This appearance came in the context of other remarks on Twitter that, cumulatively, require us to make clear that our standards are serious, and so are the consequences for disregarding them. This is true for all Politico journalists, including an experienced and well-respected voice like Joe Williams.
Following discussion of this matter with editors, Joe has been suspended while we review the matter.
In the American media industry, the issue of journalistic bias was dealt with before any leaked video showing planted interviews or fake memos listing corrupt journalists was able to swirl around that nation’s talk shows. Before it could ever get to that point, the editors at Politico suspended the reporter, even though he was an experienced and respected journalist writing on his own Twitter time line. His editors suspended him to protect the credibility of the entire media group.
Compare this to to what is going on in our own media where bias is openly present in the media, and high profile journalists use social media to make even more blatantly biased statements. Such unchecked behaviour is creating affecting not only media credibility, but social cohesion.
Recent events showed that it’s not only what is said when the camera is on that matters. The attitudes and statements of journalists off screen can just as easily destroy media’s credibility. Thankfully, there is an alternative.