How can journalism call for accountability and transparency from those in power if it can't prove itself to be accountable and transparent?
The story of Buffalo Beast's editor Ian Murphy and its improper behaviour in obtaining journalistic information might remember us that A comes before B.
As the Milwaukee - Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reported, Ian Murphy, pretending to be the conservative billionaire businessman David Koch, a financial supporter of Gov. Scott Walker, had a recorded 20-minute phone call with the governor and obtained governor's reflections and strategies for dealing with protesting union workers and trying to lure Democrats boycotting the state Senate back to Wisconsin.
The article described the call as a prank.
Are we sure that we can simply classify this as a prank? Are we sure that the point is what governor has said, or not said? Of course, the revelations that emerged have had an impact on Wisconsin politics but does this justify and overtake the way the reporter got the information?
As Editor & Publisher reported, the Society of Professional Journalists, through its Ethics Committee, strongly condemns Murphy's actions. "This tactic and the deception used to gain this information violate the highest levels of journalism ethics" said SPJ Ethics Committee Chairman Kevin Z. Smith. "To lie to a source about your identity and then to bait that source into making comments that are inflammatory is inexcusable and has no place in journalism".
No matter , SPJ underlined, if the Buffalo Beast purports to be an alternative news site with heavily slanted views that are neither far nor objective, the fact remains that the interview was underhanded and unethical.
It's about credibility.
As the Huffington Post reported, the Buffalo Beast's publisher Paul Fallon, asked how Murphy got the nerve to make the call, he said "He's a pretty bold guy".
Is a valid argument saying that Governor Walker wouldn't have talk on the phone with the editor of an online site in Buffalo and instead he was more prone to do it with an his financial supporter?
SPJ's Code of Ethics clearly states that journalists should "be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting news." The Code also says to avoid "undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public".
It can be difficult to define what is in the public interest, but journalism can't sacrifice its authoritativeness while running after scoops. It risks losing its credibility along the way. 'A' must come before 'B'.