As I read the article by the Washington Post’s media reporter, Paul Farhi, my temperature began to rise. It described how Reuven Fenton, alleged reporter for the notorious tabloid, New York Post, deceived a woman to get information for a meaningless follow-up to a lurid story. Ick. This was a prime example of greed-induced sleaze cloaked in the guise of “journalism.” Not that anyone expects more from the likes of the Post.
The lurid story is the one about Congressman Anthony Weiner’s wayward Twitter account crotch photo, sent to 21-year-old journalism student, Gennette Cordova. Throughout the predictable media frenzy, Cordova had maintained a strict “no-comment” policy. To sneak past this wall of privacy, Fenton and a photographer/accomplice got Cordova to agree to a photo shoot. As the photographer was clicking away, Fenton peppered the innocent subject with questions, and even suggested answers. Did this deceptive hack also secretly record his conversation with the victim? You would think so, based on the many “quotations” that appear in the article, which is touted as being based on “an exclusive interview.” [Under normal circumstances, I would link to the article. But in this case I’d rather not soil my blog by association.]
On Twitter, Cordova outed the deceptive duo’s scam. First, she said she was put off her guard because the photographer was a local student who freelanced for the New York tabloid. As a result, she thought she was in a safe environment, noting that she “spoke candidly to someone posing as a photog assistant.” She added: “I was ‘Trojan horsed’ by an NY Post reporter who never said who he was of that he was interviewing me.”
Fenton and the rag he works for did a gutless, sleazy, deceptive thing. The highest calling of journalists is to report the truth honestly, to expose wrongdoing, corruption and evil. They should be raking muck, not wallowing in it.
Gennette Cordova took a principled stand in a difficult situation. She had a right to her privacy, and it was callously and treacherously invaded. Nonetheless, as a young journalism student, she comes out of this showing more class and integrity than “professionals” three times her age. (Fenton claims he even attended Columbia’s vaunted Graduate School of Journalism. I wonder if he ever took an ethics course.)
Faced with the worst of the hyenas that roam the fringes of the journalism pack, Cordova stood strong. In one tweet, she posted a link to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. To her tabloid tormenters, she wrote: “I know you don’t abide by this stuff… but you should really consider some of it.” Here are some ethical guidelines the New York Post grossly violated:
— Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
— 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.
— Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
— Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
— Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
— Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
— Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.