Let me begin with a stipulation: I'm neither a journalist nor am I especially knowledgeable about journalistic ethics. But I do find it upsetting when our state's major paper publishes letters that contain allegations and statements it knows to be flat out false.
In the wake of a judge's ruling last week that Sho Dozono violated the rules and thus could not be qualified to received public funding for his mayoral campaign, the Oregonian published a letter that claimed the following (“An absurd spectacle,” 3/22/08 – not available online as of this writing.)
"Now it seems that if a serious candidate attempts to run for office, the leading candidate (who is relying on unlimited private contributions) will join with marginal candidates (who are spending public funds) to ensure that there will be no effective competition."
The editors must know that two statements in this letter are false. First, Sam Adams, the "leading candidate," has voluntarily limited both his contributions and his spending. This is consistent with an earlier pledge that while he supported Voter Owned elections he would not run with the benefit of a system that he voted to implement. Instead, like Dan Saltzman in 2006, he is voluntarily limiting his contributions to $500 a person and his spending to the public financing ceiling. Second, the "marginal candidates" who filed formal complaints against Dozono are all running with private, not public funding.
Why would the Oregonian print such a letter? It's standard practice to print a full range of opinions, even ill-founded ones, but is it really in the public interest to perpetuate false information? Would the paper, for example, print a letter warning enthusiastic Barack Obama supporters to shun the candidate because of his Muslim religion, even after this falsehood has been thoroughly debunked? Or is it somehow kosher if the lies support the paper's editorial position, as is the case with Voter Owned Eections?
What are the ethics about knowingly publishing letters with false information – not controversial opinions, but specific, known-to-be-false claims? I’d like to hear from BlueOregon readers as well as from the Oregonian or other journalists/editors on this.