Tuesday, November 29, 2005

How Ethical Is Time Magazine Anyway?

Today's Washington Post reveals that Time reporter Viveca Novak has a conflict of interest which should have precluded her from ever being assigned to stories about the Plame leak.

From Jim VandeHei's Time Reporter Called a Key to Rove's Defense In Leak Probe:

It could not be learned what Luskin and Novak, who are friends, discussed that could help prove Rove did nothing illegal in the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity to reporters and the subsequent investigation of it.

As of this writing, I haven't been able to find an online code of journalism ethics or rules for Time Magazine journalists so I can't say for certain that Viveca Novak has committed an inhouse sin. But not disclosing her personal relationship in numerous articles that have used Robert Luskin as a source on and off the record would be considered a journalistic sin at other media outlets such as The New York Times.

From The New York Times Company Journalism Ethics Policy (link):

Relationships with sources require sound judgment and self-awareness to prevent the fact or appearance of partiality. Cultivating sources is an essential skill, often practiced most effectively in informal settings outside of normal business hours. Yet staff members, especially those assigned to beats, must be aware that personal relationships with news sources can erode into favoritism, in fact or appearance. Editors, who normally have a wide range of relationships, must be especially wary of showing partiality. Where friends and neighbors are also newsmakers, journalists must guard against giving them extra access or a more sympathetic ear. When practical, the best solution is to have someone else deal with them.

From The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics (link):

Journalists should:

Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.

Ironically, Viveca Novak once wrote an article about ethics and conflicts of interest back in January of 2001 called How Ethical is the Bush Administration Anyway?:

That's why Bush's statement on his first day in office was exactly right: He said he expected members of his administration to act legally and ethically, adding "This means avoiding even the appearance of problems." If he meant it, he needs to enforce it.

At the very least, Time Magazine should apologize for allowing Viveca Novak to write about a source that she had a personal "entanglement" with and reassign her to another story (one where she won't have to worry about writing something that could reflect badly on a friend or his Administration official client).

How ethical is Time Magazine anyway?


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