About a month ago, I became aware of a potentially compromising situation involving the estranged spouse of a high ranking state official and a local reporter. While I continued to hear rumblings about the situation, there was never any public disclosure or discussion. Surely, this involved two adults and should not qualify as the business of public interest, but I couldn't help but think that had it involved any other individuals whose names were recognizable, it would have been all over the news.
I posted a generic inquiry on my Facebook page, which appeared to force the hands of those in the media who knew of the situation, as well as prompted responses and spirited discussions with a few managers and decision makers in the media. The issue was this: There are and have been many people in the media who have been, are and will be guilty of doing the very thing they destroy others for doing -- lying, driving drunk, and public indecency to start. Yet, they are not personally or professionally penalized for doing the things that speak to character -- or the lack thereof when done by others. The last time I looked, there was no grey area between right and wrong; like being pregnant, either it is or isn't.
I understand that elected officials are held to a higher standard and greater scrutiny than others. This is because they hold the public's trust and are expected to say and do what is right and in the best interest of those they represent. But, shouldn't that also hold true for those to whom the public looks for objective information and facts?
While the tenants of journalism include ethical standards which those practicing the craft should honor, there is no oversight or watchdog for them as there is for public officials and the public, at-large. One editor told me that they rely on "internal standards" and "we don't cover ourselves." Well, who does or should?
To me, the public's trust should not be taken lightly whether bestowed by vote or choice of channel. The media constitutes the "they" that everyone quotes, repeats and embraces as truth. That is a major responsibility to deliver accurate, unbiased and non-hypocritical information.
I have never been one to judge others, or put anyone on a pedestal. I believe that we are all human, and make mistakes as a result. This does not mean that those who do screw up should not be cited for doing so. What it means is that standards should be objective and equally applied. Those who are guilty should not be allowed to demonize and even destroy others who are also guilty. Simply being able to share someone else's downfalls with the world should not preclude penalty for the same offenses. The power of the pen and the mic were never intended to be that mighty.
Ethics on every level are best upheld when there is oversight. If it works for corporate leaders, the general public and government officials, it should also work for those in the media. Self-supervision has rarely proved objective or effective.