Spying falls outside journalism ethics

If you’re a journalism major at Oswego State, then you’ve probably had discussions about the future of journalism, like the impact of blogging and the phenomenon known as "citizen journalism." This is the idea that anyone with a laptop and an Internet connection can be a journalist. More information is available to the average person now than in any time in history. The idea that anyone can bring the news sounds like an interesting idea. But there is a downside to it. The definition of what a journalist really is can get watered down, and anyone can make the claim that they are one.

An excellent example of this is James O’Keefe. O’Keefe is a filmmaker who gained notoriety last fall when he put a hidden camera in the office of the agency known as ACORN. He and a female associate of his dressed up as a pimp and a prostitute respectively and asked for financial advice on starting a brothel (although several media watchdog groups have gone after outlets such as The New York Times because they claim that the pimp in the video is not O’Keefe). The contents of this video damaged the reputation of ACORN. A few weeks ago, O’Keefe and others were arrested for trying to tap the phone of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana because they felt that she was involved in illegal activities regarding campaign funds. But I’m not here to talk about the trials and tribulations of ACORN or Senator Landrieu. What’s bothering me is that several members of the media (you guessed it, Fox News) and O’Keefe himself are calling what he’s doing journalism.

Personally, I find this notion insulting. If O’Keefe wants to do his "Candid Camera" imitation and make fools out of liberal politicians, God bless him, I really don’t care. But he needs to realize that what he’s doing isn’t journalism. It’s a glorified version of MTV’s "Punk’d." Journalism requires research, objectivity, collecting sources and making sure that your constituents have access to truthful information. It doesn’t entail playing dress-up and carrying a hidden camera. You don’t get some radical idea in your mind and go around trying to prove it. Woodward and Bernstein didn’t investigate Watergate because they hated Richard Nixon and wanted him out of office. They were just following leads. That’s how this is supposed to work. Those on the right are making this guy sound like the second coming of Edward R. Murrow. He’s more like the second coming of Ashton Kutcher.

Look, I don’t want to sound like I’m on my high horse talking about journalistic integrity. I just think that in this current media climate, we need to establish what is journalism and what isn’t. It bothers me that real journalists are losing their jobs all over the country while some guy with a hidden camera allegedly breaks into a senator’s office to tap the phone calls himself a journalist. It is insulting. Journalism is going to new places, but we can’t forget the principles that got us here in the first place.