The SPJ and undercover journalism

The “Society of Professional Journalists” is pretty upset with the way that nobody covering the story seems to get angry enough about how Murphy was deceptive in his talk with Governor Walker. They cite their own ethical code in that journalists should be “honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting news.”

So Murphy clearly violated the SPJ’s ethical code as far as not being honest since he was pretending to be someone he wasn’t. But if you’re going to whine about every time a journalists lies in order to obtain information, then that effectively make all undercover journalism “unethical” according to the standards of the Society of Professional Journalists. In fact, let’s see what the SPJ’s Code of Ethics has to say about undercover journalism:

Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story.

If someone at the SPJ were to actually read the story, they might have noticed that the very first thing they will read is a quote from a Democratic state senator in Wisconsin saying, and this is a paraphrase, that traditional open methods of contacting Governor Walker in order to obtain information vital to the public have not yielded results. So my question to the SPJ is: How exactly does Murphy’s story not qualify as an exception to the SPJ’s “no undercover work” rule?

Traditional open methods had not yielded this information, contrary to what certain pols and politicians have been saying (more on that later). The information we uncovered is vital to the public. This should be a textbook case of acceptable undercover journalism according to the SPJ’s own standards.


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