Should we have practiced journalism of rote regurgitation?

As in the case of the dog that did not bark, the solution to the mystery may lie in the answer to the question: Why?

On Monday the morning newspaper reported that 20 years ago the same paper, when I was editor, decided to “spike” a draft of an account about an ongoing lawsuit against casino owner Steve Wynn, apparently one claiming gender and age discrimination because one of Wynn’s casinos had created a policy requiring waitresses to lose weight and wear high heels.

I do not recall what was in the story or why it was not published, but I deeply resent implications and innuendo that the newspaper management at the time shirked its journalistic responsibilities. Monday’s story suggests the 1998 draft may have included accounts in court files by some plaintiffs that other women, not themselves, had been sexually harassed by Wynn. The story points out that reporting of court proceedings are protected against defamation litigation and quotes some journalism professor as saying, “Journalism has to be about courage.”

Apparently in the eyes of some, the journalism of verification has been supplanted by the journalism of rote regurgitation.

The code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists calls on journalists to “Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it.”

If someone walks through the front door and hands a reporter allegations of a salacious nature, the reporter would be obligated to verify. Just because someone makes the same allegations but launders them through court filings might sometimes protect the newspaper from litigation but does not absolve the paper from doing its job of responsibly reporting verifiable facts as accurately and fairly as possible. It is not about courage, it is about responsibility to the readers. (By the way, an online forum on responsible media warns, “The fact that documents are lodged with the Court in civil proceedings will not, of itself, attract privilege.” The privilege applies to evidence given in open court.)

The same due diligence would apply to the busboy as well as the wealthy casino owner.

As I said, I do not recall the specifics of this one incident 20 years ago, but the implication that the paper was lax in not reporting something just because it was filed in court is ludicrous and insulting and, dare I say, defamatory.

As for the credibility of the currently barking dog, former Publisher Sherman Frederick points out that longtime columnist John L. Smith resigned when the current newspaper management ordered him to never write about two of the biggest players on the Strip — Wynn and current newspaper owner and casino bigwig Sheldon Adelson — because they had unsuccessfully, repeat, unsuccessfully sued him over passages in books he had written.

 

 

 

 

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