Americans are weird about journalism and ethics

Johnston said he had emailed details of the document to Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, at about 5pm and offered to have a conversation on background to ensure that the document was authentic.

Spicer ignored him. Johnston emailed Spicer again shortly before broadcast, he said, and again received no reply. Then the Trump team briefed the nation’s White House correspondents on what was about to be reported elsewhere – a break from the typical rules of engagement, but not unheard of as a defensive PR tactic.

“He went and took what I gave him and gave it to other reporters,” said Johnston. “That’s as unethical as it gets. It tells me that the Trump White House lacks honor.”

It’s a very odd definition of ethics, isn’t it?

But then I never really do understand American journalism. There’s the monstrous egos for a start. Defenders of the truth and all that. They simply do not understand, at all, the English idea that it’s a craft, one there to fill in the white spaces between the advertisements. I’ve had commenters at Forbes absolutely horrified that I’ve had no formal training (admittedly, from someone who does such training). But, but, how can you write stuff without a Masters in how you should write stuff?

And then there’s the layers of editors at more formal places. I once did a piece for a part of the Washington Post. Simple 800 words on something or other, for which they were paying the princely sum of $100. There were at least three editors on that. Each asking for tiny changes of this or that, sometimes contradictory. The English idea is that editors edit. If you prefer, as a house style, to use – instead of ; then do so. Get on with it, you don’t need to go back to the writer for that.

And such layers of editing also take all the fun out of a piece. I don’t say this is a good joke but I thought it vaguely fun in a piece for Foreign Policy, referring to U 235 and 238, I explained them once and then second time around called them U-bang and U-not bang. No, not great but at least mildly fun. Got edited out of course.

And then we come to this ethics shit and all that. God they are monstrously egotistical about all of this. That’s why you’ve the snowflakes screaming about “access” to the White House and all that. They really just haven’t got that they’re the note takers for the stuff between the ads.

No, I don’t say that I’m great at it all myself but the one thing American journalism could do with is a serious bit of colonic (almost put colonial which would have been appropriate too) irrigation such is the extent of craniums inserted.

And yes, since you ask, I have had the occasional interaction with Cay Johnston.

16 comments on “Americans are weird about journalism and ethics

  1. Let’s get this straight. He’s complaining of being deprived of ownership of stolen material that had been stolen from the owner who’s doing the depriving? For whether he’s wearing his Donald Trump hat or his POTUS hat, either way DT’s the owner of his own tax return.
    And he talks about honour?

  2. Yes, receiver of stolen goods wanting to use said goods to undermine political opponent, squeals when original owner talks to other journalists.

    He wants to be in a game where he can do what he wants but the opposition is bound by strict rules.

  3. The working memory of some (and the folk memory of almost all) US journalists still stretches back to a time when they really wore broad-brimmed hats with ‘PRESS’ tickets stuck in the hatband, chomped on cigars, gulped bourbon and occasionally shouted “Hold the front page!” Every major city had its own ‘local’ national paper and that’s what people read, because it was all there was. They all believed it to be the best in the world, in the same way they rooted for their local baseball team.

    The Internet has swept all that away. Everyone has access to as many ‘official’ news sources as they want and millions of unofficial ones. The dinosaurs have yet to come to terms with the effect of the meteorite landing.

  4. Now they are trying to blame Trump for not saving them from their own stupidity?

    What’s next? Death threats on headed notepaper?

  5. Their minds are half tantrum toddler, half moody and psychotic teenager. “I HATE YOU!! When is dinner ready? I HATE YOU!!”.

  6. The doctrine of the MSM is nicely summarised here. (WKPD)

    All this was inspired by the principle—which is quite true within itself—that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.

    It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

    That was written by you-know-who in his book you-know-what. Golly, US reporters must be so proud of themselves.

  7. @dearieme.
    But you-know-who was a rank amateur at porkies. Any accomplished liar knows; the trick is to tell the absolute truth in a sufficiently unconvincing matter that the target searches for & finds a more acceptable ( the desired) alternate explanation. For nothing is believed more fully than that which the believer has “discovered” for themselves.

  8. Well it’s pure game theory now. I take Tim’s point about the ego and self importance but makes sense to know prior to publication whether the other side will claim its a fake.
    I suppose what has changed that even if it was a fake you can’t be sure that Mr Spicer will tell you. Because he would be delighted to see you to applying egg to your own face.

  9. Spicer ignored him. Johnston emailed Spicer again shortly before broadcast, he said, and again received no reply.

    This smells much the same as journalists not being allowed on Trump’s private plane. Funnily enough, I’m not allowed on Trump’s private plane either, even if I tell everyone I’m a very important blogger. I suspect if I emailed Spicer asking him to comment on something, he’d ignore me too.

  10. American journalists don’t see themselves as reporters. They see themselves as the fourth branch of government. It’s one of the many reasons Americas despise American journalists.

  11. American journalism came of age* in the Viet Nam War. They successfully coerced the government to withdraw after victory. They have longed to have such power ever since. Their motivation is not to inform, rather to have power.

    *That age is about 11 years old.

  12. It’s rude, maybe not sensible, but unethical? Pshaw. It’s not like sources were thrown under buses.

    Presumably reporters are required to allow the target of a hit-piece a chance to comment, for the sake of ‘balance’. So after something like this, reporters will offer much less time for comment, to avoid counter-briefings. Not sure I see a problem, apart from the press having to confront their previously-cozy relationship with the people they’re supposed to be holding to account.

  13. I’m amazed they only wanted 800 words Tim; the worst thing by far about Yank media is the verbosity.

    Most journos are inclined to excessive self-regard, but the septics seem (from reading) to be light-years ahead in this.

    Maybe they don’t meet their readers often enough. I remember – as a reporter for a UK business weekly – going to a workshop with some readers. The first thing we learned was that 90% of our subscribers read the rag on the loo. Hard to get too far up yourself after that.

    The fact-checking/editing thing is just odd. I write occasionally for the magazine of a US worthy industry body. They are very nice and pay rather well but the subs are both picky and inefficient. Any British sub-editor would get copy sorted out in half the time and with half the effort for 99% or all of the accuracy and coherency. (Altho perhaps with more verbal abuse)

  14. Actually U-not bang can make a modest (by nuclear standards) bang into a much bigger one in many designs of device.

  15. Let’s face it if Trump produced a cure for Cancer the headlines would be “Trump destroys Cancer Charities”

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