Ethics in Journalism

Let's talk journalistic ethics. Apparently, there's been all kinds rumors flying about in Eugene about the personal life of UO basketball coach Ernie Kent. Quite a few media outlets have discussed the existence of the rumors, without characterizing them.

Most say something like the Tribune's Dwight Jaynes:

Kent, the men’s basketball coach, is the subject of Internet rumors regarding marital problems — and what possibly caused them. ... I have no idea if all the rumors are true.

Is this ethical? Should a newspaper report the existence of rumors - without describing the rumors themselves, and without being able to verify some amount of truth? What role does the net play here? Is it news that a few websites, blogs, or message boards are spreading possible truths and/or untruths? If so, does that create an incentive for ne'er-do-wells to create websites for the purpose of spreading fake rumors?

And... what implications does this have for politics?

  • LT (unverified)

    We have enough to debate in politics without rumors.

    Remember those who implied anyone who had even voted for Goldschmidt in 1986 should be ashamed they voted for a sex criminal (just how many of those votes were anti-Fadeley in the primary would ruin the tabloid nature of that accusation)as if they should have known?

    Remember "Well, ------ was at that party, therefore they should have heard that rumor about Neil....." How many times have you acted on a rumor without making sure it was true first? How many of us have the power to investigate all rumors--or is the circulation what the rumormongers want because they don't want intelligent discussion which might require thought?

    If you know something of your own personal knowledge (from voting record to someone you know who had a messy divorce) that is one thing. But let's not make the mistake made at the end of the last century that, in 2005 terms would be "Let's not talk about any of the Senate bills the House has not acted on, let's not talk about someone quoted in the Statesman-Journal saying 'But that might be an unforgivable sin for Republicans to go against their leadership', because what really matters is juicy rumors about someone's personal life."

    There are unemployed and underemployed people in this state, there are military families with a loved one overseas and some returned veterans (some healthy, some not), there are the matters of school, public safety, transportation, health care funding, and on and on. None of those will be solved by rumors about someone's personal life.

    If someone could solve the problems in the above paragraph, it wouldn't matter to me if they had been married 3 times and had a child out of wedlock. Actually, there was a Mayor of the town where I went to high school who saw some problems, got himself elected, solved many of them and got a common sense city council elected.

    When asked if he would run for higher office, he mentioned the number of kids he had fathered, and the fact that he had not necessarily been married to the mother of the child at the time. It got lots of publicity when he was elected, but he ran a kind of Tom Potter sort of campaign--attending local events, not accepting money outside the area, etc. He retired from city government and went back to his other career, and eventually married a local news anchor. But when he won an Academy Award, he mentioned the folks at home, watching in a landmark he had saved. His name is Clint Eastwood.

    Just a warning to those who want to start rumors that locals may well consider the result more important than the politician's personal life.

    I don't care if Minnis and Scott teach Sunday School and tithe to their church. They have been a disaster as House "leadership".

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    Kari, do you think it is possible that the writers in question have in fact verified the truth of some of the stories, but are just being too tasteful to splash the tabloid details out in their columns? And when they ask Kent and the U of O repeatedly about the rumors, and get nonanswers, at what point do they print something?

    Why are you so hung up on the Ernie Kent story? I believe you were over on my blog swearing about it the other night. Is he or a member of his family a friend of yours? Do you do p.r. work for him or for the university? I'm sure in keeping with your ethical standards, you'd have no problem disclosing your relationship to them.

    I recall your glowing tribute to Neil Goldschmidt. Do you think the local media did the right thing ignoring those rumors for a couple of decades while the guy bdecame governor and then made himself filthy rich off his false reputation?

    PS Your comment preview template is screwed up, I think.

  • LT (unverified)

    2 agreements with Jack: 1) The people with the power to uncover Neil's dirty secret were the parents of the girl, any reporters who actually chased down rumors, the people aware of legal papers, payoff, etc.

    As someone who knew very little about Neil in the primary other than that he was not Fadeley and he was polite to people who asked him questions, I think anyone who goes after any supporter of Neil ("condoning sex criminal" type nonsense) without proving they belong in the first paragraph deserves to be shunned. There were a lot of hot debates in the general election, and both Neil and Norma did dumb things. You may recall that 2 women's groups (NOW and Women's Political Caucus, I think) split their endorsement. One supported the woman because it was time for a woman governor, the other looked at the answers on questionaire and interview.

    2) Glad to see someone else has had trouble with PREVIEW.

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    Jack, I have no relationship with Ernie Kent or the Ducks. I don't talk about clients of mine without disclosing it. In fact, as a USC Trojan alum, I've been spotted at Autzen Stadium dressed head-to-toe in cardinal and gold hollering and yelling about the local fowl.

    You ask, Kari, do you think it is possible that the writers in question have in fact verified the truth of some of the stories, but are just being too tasteful to splash the tabloid details out in their columns?

    Maybe that's true. On the other hand, I'll take Dwight Jaynes (for one) at his word that he doesn't have any idea if its true.

    You ask, Why are you so hung up on the Ernie Kent story? Here's your answer: Because if they can verify something that's newsworthy and true, they should report it. If they can't, they should shut up. That's what journalism is. Leave the gossip and rumor-mongering to the tabloids.

    It only creates an incentive for bloggers and blog commenters to generate fake rumors.

    Here's one: "Karl Rove likes to dress up like Little Bo Peep on weekends and shepherd around College Republicans he affectionately refers to as 'my little sheep'." There. A totally unfounded internet rumor. Does that make it newsworthy? I think not.

    If there's something newsworthy and true, report it. Otherwise, shut it.

  • blizzak (unverified)


    The local media down here in Eugene is happy to report rumors about basketball and football players regarding academic dishonesty, drug use, drunken fights at bars, etc. However, the local media did not comment about the breakdwon of Bellotti's marriage in 2003 (even though everybody knew about it) and has not commented on the current rumors about Kent (except in response to the athletic department's recent press release). It seems like a double-standard to me. Why is it OK to comment about the personal lives of student-athletes who receive just enough money to live on but it's not OK to comment about the personal lives of state employees (coaches) who are very well compensated?

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    Blizzak... I'm not really asking the question about what's newsworthy and what's not... I'm asking this question: Why is it OK to make mysterious allusions to things that reporters cannot verify as true?

    If it is actually true that Coach Kent has done something horrible, and there's something newsworthy there, then by all means: report it. Same for students.

    If, on the other hand, the media cannot verify whether it is true, then they shouldn't talk about it at all.

    (Your question - is this stuff really newsworthy? - is an interesting and important one. But not really my point.)

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    (Incidentally, the comment preview thing is screwed up on all Typepad blogs. Not sure why. Will figure that out.)

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