Hold commentators accountable


Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

I spend approximately three to six hours a day in Room 250 of Gallagher Student Center. In that Newswire office, I write and edit articles, do homework, check Twitter and generally slink away from the possibly COVID-ian outside world.

Above my desk in the office, where I sit for hours, is a bulletin board. The bulletin board contains funny receipts, a map of medieval Europe, a list of computer shortcuts and one key component: the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.

Ethics-seeking journalism is hard to decipher and discover these days, but when it exists, it intends to follow a set of principles. These principles have a diverse range, from simply reporting accurate information to exposing unethical content in other publications.

The code is segmented into four major categories: “Seek Truth and Report It,” Act Independently,” “Be Accountable and Transparent” and “Minimize Harm.”

These principles are integral to journalism and the Newswire tries to embody them in every issue that they print. As an editor, I hold my page to this exact standard and would be embarrassed to learn that anything I contributed to did not meet it.

But readers today are not always afforded this level of journalism. To reiterate, these basic tenets of media — which only ensures that sources are not harming, misinforming or misleading readers — are rarely available.

One main factor, in my opinion, contributes greatly to this issue.

Political commentary, especially in cases of broadcast journalism, is not considered to be journalistic. Consumers of political commentary consider factual journalism to rein and don’t hold opinion journalism to the same ethical standard.

Consider for a moment Tucker Carlson. In a recent “opinion” segment of his on Fox News, Carlson claimed that the Kenosha shooter was a vigilante trying to “maintain law and order when no one else would.”

The Kenosha shooter, a teenage boy who crossed state lines armed with an assault rifle, shot two innocent people during protests of Jacob Blake’s murder at the hands of Kenosha police. 

Though his statement is an opinion, not a fact, that does not mean that the Code of Ethics does not apply to it. Tucker Carlson, a platformed journalist, condoned the murders of two protestors. 

Under the category “Minimize Harm,” Carlson breaks the first guideline. It reads, in part, “Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort.”

This particular segment of ethics was recently related to Tom Cotton’s “Send in the Troops” op-ed controversy, in which he advocated for military force against Black Lives Matter protests. People claimed that his advocacy for violence was against journalistic ethics.

Carlson’s quote, which has been widely spread on social media, is a similar case. Carlson does not directly advocate for violence. Instead, he condones what prosecutors are alleging is first-degree murder. 

It would be wildly unethical for me to say that if Tucker Carlson were theoretically murdered, it would be an example of “maintaining law and order in journalism when no one else would.”

First of all, that sentiment is perceived as a threat because Tucker Carlson is alive and well. Though the subjects of his parallel tirade, Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, had been shot, he refers to maintaining order. It is clear to his listeners that the supposed disorder is the BLM protests, which are very much still active and full of people who feel threatened by his approval of murder.

Secondly, the sentiment is ridiculous. Journalism is struggling; misinformation, disinformation, bias and unethical content pervade the media, but to protect a perfect sense of “law and order” within media would not be worth a human life. Likewise, protecting a city’s sense of law and order by murdering its inhabitants is both horrifying and contradictory.

This is journalism. Opinion journalism, but still journalism. We are not holding our opiners and commentators responsible for the literal murder that they condone, and by doing so, we are intensely distancing ourselves from good journalism.

It is not enough for me to say, “I will continue to sit with the Code of Ethics above my desk in the Newswire office.” It is not enough for people to stop consuming Carlson’s commentary. We must hold our journalists accountable for their words and actions by deplatforming those who don’t follow the basic guidelines of ethical conduct, and keep the flame of ethical journalism alive.