Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain has been the talk of DC this week, but for all the wrong reasons. A political newspaper released a story about Cain being accused of sexually harassing two women while he was CEO of the National Restaurant Association (NRA) in the ’90s. According to the newspaper, Cain reached an agreement to settle with the two women for an undisclosed amount of money and all the parties were bound by a confidentiality agreement that prohibits any discussions of the event(s).
I have a somewhat different take on the Cain situation. I want to focus solely on the way the story has been reported in the media. The original reporting is filled with quotes by “anonymous” sources. During the past three days, I have seen journalists “high-fiving” each other over the reporters who wrote the article–“congratulations on your scoop,” they have said to them.
What’s amazing is that these stories about Cain have been floating around town for years. Why didn’t journalists report on this when Cain was running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia a few years ago? These DC journalists seem to be enjoying the game of destroying someone’s life in their pursuit of a Pulitzer (the highest award a journalist can earn).
Journalists claim to be objective and merely seek to report the facts. Well, that has not been the case for at least two decades. The reporters [in this case] refuse to reveal their sources, so the public has no idea where the initial information came from or what the motivation was of the person(s) who gave the information to the reporters. In essence, these reporters are asking the public to trust them.
So, let me make sure I understand this. Reporters that I don’t know, sources the reporters won’t reveal, not knowing the motivation of the suppliers of the information, but trust the reporters? How many reporters would let a politician get away with the above?
One of the basic tenets of journalism is to verify, verify, and verify. Well, as part of the reading public, it’s kind of difficult to verify anonymous sources, integrate the motivation of an unknown source into our interpretation of the story and to trust reporters you don’t know.
The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) have created a generally accepted code of ethics by which journalists are supposed to abide by: “The SPJ Code of Ethics is voluntarily embraced by thousands of writers, editors and other news professionals. The present version of the code was adopted by the 1996 SPJ National Convention, after months of study and debate among the Society’s members.” (Click here, to read the entire code.
According to SPJ’s preamble, “Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.”
Can these reporters honestly say that they “provided a fair and comprehensive account” of the Herman Cain allegations? How can a story that’s based on anonymous sources be “fair and comprehensive?”
The SPJ’s code of ethics further states:
- Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability. Violated by the reporters in question.
- Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story. Violated by the reporters in question.
- Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy. Violated by the reporters in question.
- Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct. Violated by the reporters in question.
- Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others. Violated by the reporters in question.
Does anyone actually believe these reporters have lived up to their own profession’s standards when it comes not only to the Cain story, but journalism in general? Journalism today is going through the equivalent of the financial meltdown of 2008–they have lost all public trust.
While these irresponsible journalists seem to want to destroy Cain’s candidacy, their razing of Cain will probably serve only to raise Cain in the polls.
Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a D.C.-public relations/government affairs firm. He is also a contributing editor for ExcellStyle Magazine, Freedom’s Journal Magazine and U.S. Africa Magazine.