on today’s episode of Dont Say That… all of that ‘unbiased’ journalism… journalistic ethics… it is all bullsquirt…
Welcome to the latest ‘Dont Say That‘ nonsense… In short, the FDA and various other Federal Agencies think they get to dictate who says what and how they say it. Also, journalistic ethics don’t seem to be an actual thing.
Onto the story from Scientific American…
The deal was this: NPR, along with a select group of media outlets, would get a briefing about an upcoming announcement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration a day before anyone else. But in exchange for the scoop, NPR would have to abandon its reportorial independence. The FDA would dictate whom NPR’s reporter could and couldn’t interview.
“My editors are uncomfortable with the condition that we cannot seek reaction,” NPR reporter Rob Stein wrote back to the government officials offering the deal. Stein asked for a little bit of leeway to do some independent reporting but was turned down flat. Take the deal or leave it.
NPR took the deal. “I’ll be at the briefing,” Stein wrote.
Later that day in April 2014, Stein—along with reporters from more than a dozen other top-tier media organizations, including CBS, NBC, CNN, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times—showed up at a federal building to get his reward. Every single journalist present had agreed not to ask any questions of sources not approved by the government until given the go-ahead.
“I think embargoes that attempt to control sourcing are dangerous because they limit the role of the reporter whose job it is to do a full look at a subject,” says New York Times former public editor Margaret Sullivan. “It’s really inappropriate for a source to be telling a journalist whom he or she can and can’t talk to.” Ivan Oransky, distinguished writer in residence at New York University’s Journalism Institute and founder of the Embargo Watch weblog, agrees: “I think it’s deeply wrong.”
This kind of deal offered by the FDA—known as a close-hold embargo—is an increasingly important tool used by scientific and government agencies to control the behavior of the science press. Or so it seems. It is impossible to tell for sure because it is happening almost entirely behind the scenes. We only know about the FDA deal because of a wayward sentence inserted by an editor at the New York Times. But for that breach of secrecy, nobody outside the small clique of government officials and trusted reporters would have known that the journalists covering the agency had given up their right to do independent reporting.Source: By Charles Seife | Scientific American October 2016 Issue URL: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-the-fda-manipulates-the-media/
I highly suggest you read the entire article so you can understand why I am offended and why you should be too.
The fact that a government agency is controlling who gets what information, information owned by the public, information that the public has every right to know and discuss… is absurdly offensive. We pay for their existence, they are public servants, they do not get to act like little shits in their own little fiefdom.
While I wish I had the resources to pursue this, I do not. I can only hope that Scientific American or somebody out there reading the article will have the resources to bring this unethical nonsense to light.
This kind of behavior is unethical and should not be tolerated. Tolerating it sets a precedent… it would allow the U.S. government to engage in selective disclosure, effectively telling the public what they should and should not know and talk about. (yes i am aware that the government already engages in selective disclosure in various ways, point is the same)
Now listen to this self-righteous bullsquirt from a U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board employee…
a CSB public affairs specialist noted in an e-mail, “Frankly, I wish we did have more stenographers out there. Government agencies trying to control the information flow is an old story, but the other side of the story is that government agencies that do good work often have a difficult time getting their story told in an era of journalistic skepticism and partisan bickering and bureaucratic infighting.”
Arrogance. Vanity. All over.
Nobody has a right to control how other’s speak of them. Your feelings are irrelevant. You could be so wonderful, so giving, so amazing that you could call yourself a second jesus… it still would not matter. People would have every right to criticize you and not speak exactly how you want them to. They may even say something like ‘it’s inappropriate for you to call yourself jesus‘.
And you know what, if you want to spread the word on just how wonderful you think you are… start a blog. Write a book. Put YOUR NAME on YOUR writing instead of trying to manipulate others into telling your story.
Journalists, writers, reporters… people are not toys for your benefit.
Frustratingly… NPR also seemed to misunderstand the issues involved with a government agency picking and choosing who gets what information…
Some of the other outlets, like NPR, injected a little more nuance into their pieces, despite the restrictions, by doing additional reporting after the embargo expired. (In a statement, NPR said that agreeing to the FDA’s conditions was not a violation of ethics guidelines and “in no way influenced which other voices or ideas were included in the coverage.”)
Bullsquirt. The ethical issue here is that NPR is enabling a government agency to pick and choose who it gives information to. They are actively participating in the process. That information is public property, the public has every right to know, and nobody should ever be denied that information. The fact that it’s ‘only’ a time delay is irrelevant. Just because NPR’s ethical guidelines may not have said anything about what to do in this situation… that does not make it ethical. The absence of a prohibition does not equate to an action being ethical.
Furthermore, the fact that NPR is publishing a ‘neutral’ or positive toned article instead of one where outside experts give honest opinions… that effects people’s understanding of what the government is doing. It does not matter if you publish more information later, that does not mean people will see that new information, it doesn’t mean they’ll ever know that what they read wasn’t the whole story. The damage has been done, the person’s opinion has been formed, the thought that everybody who read the first article will read all the information published days if not weeks later is absolutely absurd.
Anyways… a reporter, a journalist, is meant to do more than be a mouth piece for people with power. Because they are the first people to disclose important information to the public, finding balance through commentary from other individuals with (hopefully) no ulterior motive is important. That commentary can change the entire tone of an article, it can change a person’s understanding, it can change what people do. It is important to behave ethically… I hear with great power comes great responsibility.
This has been another episode of Don’t Say That… Welcome to the real world…