Just a quick post on journalistic ethics that’s worth thinking about during the ongoing campaign. Typically, when journalists write a negative story on one candidate based on information provided to them by another under the condition that the information is “not for attribution,” they use a shorthand that the research was provided by a “rival campaign.” (See the Politico story on Rudy and Planned Parenthood for an example.) But this makes me a bit uncomfortable, because basically the journalist is doing the dirty work for a candidate. A political campaign has an interest in publicizing negative facts about an opponent, but the downside of going on the attack publicly is that it makes the campaign look like it’s dirty. Leaking opposition research to a journalist “not for attribution” allows the campaign to draw attention to negative facts about an opponent without having to get criticized for mud-slinging–so the journalist, because of an interest in breaking a story, essentially becomes part of the campaign. What makes the term “rival campaign” even worse is that all of the competing campaigns become suspects, even though only one actually leaked the information. So, in other words, if Candidate A attacks Candidate B “not for attribution,” is it fair that Candidate C will also be tainted as the possible source of the attack? This is just the way things work in this business, and I suppose everybody who plays the game has to deal with it. But journalists should always be asking themselves these questions.
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