Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Ethics and Sour Grapes

Sinclair Broadcast Group is up in arms over an ethics award handed to one of it's former employees.

Remember Sinclair? The broadcasting company that was forced to back off it's Stolen Honor documentary with ties to the Swift Boat Veterans on the eve of the 2004 election? The same Sinclair involved with Armstrong Williams in the "Pundit Payola" scandal? The same Sinclair which promised an investigation into the scandal -- only to have their head honcho, David Smith attend a reception at Mr Williams' home a few days later?

Well, that same David Smith fired off a letter to the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication complaining about it's Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism. Seems the school gave the award to Jon Lieberman. Mr Lieberman was Sinclair's Washington Bureau Chief until he publicly opposed the Stolen Honor fiasco.

Sinclair fired him and has been hounding him ever since.

Officially, Sinclair fired Mr Lieberman for discussing company business with the Baltimore Sun. Mr Smith pointed out that a Maryland labor judge had ruled Mr Lieberman broke his contract with the company and should be denied the honor -- since he was denied unemployment compensation.

Dean Tim Gleason of the journalism school fired back a letter to Mr Smith with a quick lesson in Ethics 101:

“Mr. Leiberman upheld the fundamental journalist principles of fairness and balance, even at the risk of losing his job. It was a principled stand in the face of significant pressure. [H]e acted in order to uphold values that are central to the practice of journalism in the public interest.”

After his firing, Sinclair Broadcast Group reportedly threatened to sue Mr Lieberman for "liquadated damages" for the ten months remaining on his contract. The no compete clause in his contract still prohibits him from working in television in competition with Sinclair.

This is the state of ethics in Washington these days. It has more to do with "winners and losers" instead of "right and wrong." Congress bends their ethics rules to protect a Congressional leader. The panel is stacked with people who've taken campaign contributions from him. The administration pays journalists to write favorable stories about their pet projects. Then ignore the Government Accountability Office when they're called on the carpet. Ethics are based on who has the clout.

So, a corporate honcho attends a party as a guest of a man he's supposed to investigate. An employee is fired for standing up for principles standard throughout the industry. Not really surprising in the big picture.

Excuse me, Mr Pot. What can you tell me about the kettle? (Romensko)

[Crossposted at]

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