Category Archives: Journalism Ethics

Chew Him Up, Spitzer Out: Lessons On Spin From A Pro

What a relief this Eliot Spitzer scandal is! A nice break for journalists trying to peddle the tired story of the growing Clinton-Obama-McCain “we’re good friends, but don’t respect each other’s policies”-triangle. A nice break for readers trying to stay interested in it. Oh! And the blogging opportunities! I can just see a young Christian Bale as a “Newsie” celebrating this latest golden headline and vending his “papes” with renewed vigor. It’s perfect! Here is the champion of decency, steadfastly intolerant of the corrupt and duplicitous among elected public servants, slain by his own silver bullet. Kind of. According Kimberley A. Strassel of The Wall Street Journal, the press are still trying to revive him.

As if this story wasn’t interesting enough, many people are starting to question why he thought he’d get away with it. In a scathing recent article, Strassel asserts that the press acted more like pre-teen NSync groupies when they covered him than like a balanced commentating voice: The unrelenting loyalty of the press is why he thought he could get away with it.

From the article: ‘”You play hard, you play rough, and hopefully you don’t get caught,” said Mr. Spitzer two years ago. He never did get caught, because most reporters were his accomplices.”

“[Gov. Spitzer] played the media like a Stradivarius.” Ouch! She then goes on to cite several cases in which the media not only turned a blind-eye to Spitzer’s indiscretions, but they also praised him for his commitment to the “people’s causes”.

This brings up an interesting point. Is it OK for the press corps to take sides on political movements and candidates? For example: The New York Times endorsing candidates. Is it instances like this that solidify the argument of an opinion-free press? Strassel asserts that one of the most important jobs of the press is to be political watch-dogs. If this is true and the circumstances in the article also true, then the press failed miserably.

Not that it was their fault entirely, according to Strassel. What we have here, is a master of spin. Spitzer knew what the media wanted and he gave it to them. He knew what would grab their attention and he worked it whether it was crusading for causes or feeding journalist friends with insider information.

Are you taking notes all you aspiring celebrity publicists?

…I honestly don’t have much else to say about this. Strassel has delivered the story beautifully and most importantly, thoroughly. All I can do is sit here with my friend Dan and shake my head at my recent discovery of the frailty and vulnerability of the modern press corps, professionals I admire and respect, people who have set standards and examples of excellence that I am instructed, daily, to emulate. What am I, a journalism major, what’s more, a PR major who has to constantly reconcile the needs of a client with social ethics, to take from this?
All I’ve left to conclude is: Britney Spears, if you want to get the media back on your side, call Eliot Sptizer. He’ll probably be looking for a job soon.

This seems brazen. Even before I publish it, I’m nervous to do so. What do I, a student, know about the ways of the world other than what I’ve been told? My idealism hasn’t been truly put to the test. “Oh yeah, Soto? Let’s see if you can find a job when you come down from that soapbox!” I suppose this post is just me needing to know that the pursuit of ethical practices and social responsibility is worth it.

*Image courtesy of http://www.gawker.com