19 October 2009

Journalistic Ethics and Political Gamesmanship

After Joe Romm was caught out putting words in a scientist's mouth in the form of a quote manufactured to support one of his political vendettas, Romm justifies his behavior by explaining:
It is exceedingly common in regular journalism to ask people for a quote that makes a very specific point — I’ve been asked many times by reporters to do similar things.
Keith Kloor a journalist, former editor at Audubon magazine and adjunct professor at NYU says in response to Romm's admission,
I’ve never done this during my career as a magazine journalist. . . feeding a source a quote is a serous breach of journalistic ethics. At NYU, where I’ve been an adjunct journalism professor, I couldn’t imagine telling a student this was acceptable behavior. In fact, in the five years I’ve taught classes there, I can’t recall when a student has even asked if this was acceptable behavior. I mean, it just feels wrong to do that kind of thing.
Bud Ward, editor of the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media has some strong things to say as well:
I agree that it is/would be an extraordinary breach of journalistic ethics for a reporter to attempt, let alone succeed, to plant a quote, regardless of the medium of distribution — magazine, newspaper, TV, online, radio. For it to be a regular event implies to my mind that the source must routinely deal with the most unscrupulous of writers…I dare not even dignify them by calling them journalists or reporters or editors. If they engage in such practices…they’re not and don’t deserve to be so identified. A sad sign of times in rapidly changing nature of just who is and is not a journalist and what is and is not journalism. But in the end, it’s simple: Planting quotes is NOT journalism.
I wonder which reporters Romm is referring to when he says that he has had reporters do "similar things" to what he has been revealed to have done? Somehow I doubt that we'll have any journalists admitting to such practices. Either Romm is making stuff up (again) to cover an embarrassing disclosure about his own unethical behavior, or, the media is in worse trouble that I have previously thought. I'll go with the first option until Romm supports his assertion with names and quotes.


  1. For once, I think that Romm is right.

  2. Romm isn't a journalist - who ever said he was? He's a public relations shill. In public relations, all's fair.

  3. Roger quotes Bud Ward to say:

    “For… [planting a quote] to be a regular event implies to my mind that the source must routinely deal with the most unscrupulous of writers”

    Per the sources below, the implication is that Romm routinely deals with the so-called mainstream of so-called “journalists” who allegedly “report” on climate change.

    An article in Salon.com, commenting on an article in the Columbia Journalism Review notes (emphasis mine):

    “our CJR [Columbia Journalism Review] author appears to believe that the green consensus, the anthropogenic theory of global warming, has some special need to be protected from doubters and dissenters, and that reporters who don't do their job to insulate it are not being ‘helpful.’ When faced with dissent from the sacrosanct green consensus, the author, as we'll see, argues that the ‘helpful’ reporter must always show the dissenters are wrong if they are to be given any attention at all

    “The problem is, as Freeman Dyson, one of the great scientists of our age, put it in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books, environmentalism can become a religion, and religions always seek to silence or marginalize heretics. CJR has been an invaluable voice in defending that aspect of the First Amendment dealing with the freedom of the press; it should be vigilant about the other aspect that forbids the establishment of a religion.”

    Click here for my comments on both articles (both from Left wing sources).

  4. -2-NWB

    Here is what Romm says:

    "What more can I do as a journalist?"

    Apparently, he thinks of himself as a journalist.

  5. Roger,

    FYI (you may already know)…
    Thomas Fuller has weighed in.

    Fuller concludes by suggesting:

    “[Joe Romm is] a jerk hoping to get promoted to Goebbels.”

    I agree!

  6. The original poster is equivocating between "planting a quote" and asking someone to comment on a specific point. Beating up straw men doesn't score you any points.

  7. Here is Christopher Monckton speaking. He calls out a number of scientists and bureaucrats as straight liars. It is quite entertaining.

    Bethel University

  8. Dr. Romm has a new post up that purports to debunk the "smears" that have been leveled at him by Dr. Pielke and others that repeats the "It's exceedingly common in regular journalism..." statement.

    After reading the additional emails Romm included, and the chapter of the book in question, it does seem to me Caldeira's views probably misrepresented in some places. But despite the fact Romm states this exact conclusion near the end, there seems to me to be nothing in those emails that suggests Caldeira thinks it was done in bad faith, or that it was actually done in bad faith regardless of what Caldeira thinks.

    It's interesting, in an email from Caldeira to Romm regarding a correction he attempted to send to the authors second hand, Caldeira explicitly states:

    "I do not think my edited version was ever returned to Dubner, not because of ulterior motives, but just because it got lost in the sauce of documents flying around."

    Yet immediately following that email in his post, Romm claims:
    "Ken disagreed with the sentence, communicated it to Nathan. Amazingly, Dubner did get it, but did not make the change."

    From then on, Romm takes it as substantiated that the authors received Caldeira's correction and willfully ignored it, despite the seeming lack of evidence to support that claim, and despite Caldeira's own speculation of something quite contrary to it.

    In the post's comments, I asked Dr. Romm if he had any other evidence he might have forgotten to share that might support the claim, but he apparently misunderstood the question. My second (very polite) comment clarifying and restating my question went into moderation and then disappeared :(