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I'm a business journalist and a fiction author. My novel Mute is available now from Silver Leaf Books.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

When 'Journalists' Cross the Line

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has been catching flak in the media for his anti-union statements in a secretly recorded phone conversation with a man he thought was David Koch. The person who should be getting the most heat from this is Ian Murphy the self-proclaimed "journalist" for the Buffalo Beast who deceived the governor to get the story.

Murphy makes no effort to conceal that he called Governor Walker posing as businessman Koch, a supporter of his campaign. Regardless of what Walker said, where is the condemnation of Murphy's conduct by the media? Are we telling the public that we support lying to sources and airing their private conversations to the public? I hope that's not the message here because it's the wrong one.

The credibility of the media is near an all-time low. It's not that every journalist stoops to these tactics, but when we see misbehavior and fail to condemn it then we're guilty by association. I don't care that it's an online news site with an agenda. That's a growing segment of the new media. Professional journalists should draw a line in the sand and make it clear that we have a higher standard of conduct.

What Murphy did wasn't "going undercover" like the old days of muckraking. It was entrapment. There's a difference. Undercover means that a journalist is posing as an average citizen, such as a home buyer or a shopper, and that doesn't require assuming a false identity. But Murphy assumed the identity of a person that Governor Walker confided in and then asked him loaded questions. What's next - hacking into his mother's email and sending him fake messages to see how he responds?

We're headed to a dark place if we accept Murphy's conduct as journalism. I call on journalism organizations to stand up for honesty and integrity by condemning his actions.

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