In response to questions from The Lens, Andrew Seaman, ethics committee chairman for the Society of Professional Journalists, said in an email that the organization’s ethics code advises reporters to “avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.”When the WDSU story aired a few weeks ago, nobody could have predicted that the whole thing would have amounted to a TV station having been conned into helping a campaign execute a dirty trick.
“Essentially, those methods should be last resorts and only used in very, very, very rare circumstances,” Seaman wrote.
“After watching the online video of the news report, I would say that WDSU has an obligation to the public to explain its role in the creation of these recordings. The explanation should be detailed and describe its interactions with the political candidate and what they provided – if anything – in the form of recording equipment and staff. Also, if they did set up the video and audio recordings of the lunch meeting, I hope they can fully explain why they chose such an approach.”
The Poynter Institute’s Kelly McBride, a leading expert on journalistic ethics, said she could not easily call the reporting an ethical breach.
“It’s not like ethical breaches are yes or no. It’s not like there’s a bright white line in journalism, and you cross it, and you’re in bad territory,” she said.
However, she added that she thinks the report was executed more for theatrics than for news.
“If the woman wanted to record the judge, they should have let her do it on her own,” she said. “They shouldn’t have been a partner to her actions.”
Update: This week's Lens "Breakfast with the Newsmakers" will feature Brad Cousins. Cousins is the executive director of Court Watch NOLA which is kind of a pressure group based on public scrutiny of how the criminal court system operates. There's some good and bad that comes from them. But it should be a worthwhile discussion for anyone interested in the upcoming judicial elections.