SPJ leaders concerned by Pentagon’s military analyst PR operation
Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists today urged the nation’s media to hold their military analysts to the same ethical standards journalists are required to meet concerning potential conflicts of interest, financial ties and relationships with government agencies.
SPJ leaders also expressed outrage at what an April 20 New York Times story revealed to be the federal government’s willingness to use these analysts as a “media Trojan horse” to spread the administration’s perspective on the Iraq war.
According to the Times story, the Pentagon through controlling access and disseminating selective information about the war effort have co-opted some military analysts to generate favorable news coverage during the Iraq war.
In addition, the Times story showed that few national television networks understood their own analysts’ financial ties to defense industry contractors doing business with the U.S. military. The story further illustrated how the media also does not understand the analysts working relationship with the military that helps shape their views.
“The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized,” wrote Times reporter David Barstow. “Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.”
The practice has continued at least through the publication of the Times piece with analysts representing more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants.
Internal Pentagon documents obtained by the Times called the analysts “surrogates” and “message force multipliers” that could deliver the administration’s “themes and messages” via the American media.
“The Pentagon’s practices to co-opt military analysts should end and be replaced by an honest, open dialogue with representatives of the media about the facts of the war,” SPJ President Clint Brewer said. “In addition, the country’s news organizations should disclose the ties of their analysts both past and present. Moving forward, America’s news media should hold these analysts to the same ethical tests they would any journalist.”
SPJ leaders believe that the nation’s news networks have an ethical responsibility to conduct ethical autopsies on their own coverage, explaining and analyzing how sources were selected, what perspectives they conveyed and to whom they were beholden. When doing these types of exercises, leaders hope reporters will turn to the SPJ Code of Ethics, which states that journalists should:
The SPJ Code of Ethics states that journalists should:
- Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.
- Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
- Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
- Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
- Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
- Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
- Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
- Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
- Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
- Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
- Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.
“The Times should be commended for bringing this practice to light,” said Andy Schotz, SPJ’s National Ethics Committee Chairman. “It’s now up to members of the media who use these sources to fully disclose their affiliations.”
SPJ embraces ethics as a core mission to advocate the highest level of professional standards for journalists. To further this mission and to help journalists make sound ethical decisions, SPJ provides a host of resources and programs to ensure that ethics remains central to the industry and practice. In addition to encouraging members to adopt the Society’s voluntary Code of Ethics that is translated into nine languages, other ethics resources include:
- Ethics Case Studies: By examining real-world decisions and how journalists handled them, best practices are shared and ethical practice is encouraged, in and out of the newsroom. View the list of case studies at www.spj.org/ethicscasestudies.asp<http://www.spj.org/ethicscasestudies.asp>.
- Ethics Teaching Tools: To educate journalists about the fine lines between reporting the news and observing ethics during wartime, members of the Society’s Ethics Committee developed a module to help journalists resolve conflicts. Read the module at www.spj.org/ethicswartime.asp<http://www.spj.org/ethicswartime.asp>.
- Ethics Hotline: For journalists and members of the public who are struggling with an ethical dilemma, the Society offers counsel via an Ethics Hotline. Calls are answered by professional journalists who are eager to lend insight and provide direction. To reach the hotline, dial (317) 927-8000, ext. 208.
- Ethics Reading Room: To further encourage everyday ethics, the Society hosts an online reading room with relevant materials and current news from Society members. Check out the growing list of articles at http://www.spj.org/rr.asp?t=ethics.
- Code Words: To engage SPJ members and the general public in discussions concerning journalism ethics, SPJ’s National Ethics Committee launched “Code Words,” a Web log hosted on spj.org. Take part in the latest discussion at http://spj.org/blog/blogs/ethics/.