Ethical Journalism? Off to the Unicorn Races!

The list of silly things to come out of Georgia’s Legislature is long (see proposed “Constitutional Tender Act;” the 2001 edition of the State flag; Mitchell Kaye; etc.) but the silliest of 2019 has to be the idea of a “State Journalism Ethics Board.”

Outgoing State Rep. Andy Welch, a Republican from McDonough, thinks the chancellor of the University System of Georgia should be empowered to appoint a board that would develop “canons of ethics,” issue “advisory opinions,” investigate complaints, and sanction violators of said canons. This raises a mildly interesting constitutional question -could it be possible to “sanction” a journalist without “…abridging the freedom of speech or of the press…” as is written in the very first Amendment to the US Constitution?

Before anyone Googles “prior restraint,” let’s point out that a Journalism Ethics Board is about as necessary as a “Unicorn Racing Regulation Commission” because each would create governing principles for things that don’t exist. There are no such things as unicorn races or journalistic ethics.

Oh sure, the Society of Professional Journalists has a “code” of ethics that asks members “seek truth,” and “be accountable and transparent,” among some other things, but even the SPJ includes a disclaimer admitting that it’s only “…a guide that encourages all who engage in journalism to take responsibility for the information they provide, regardless of medium…. It is not, nor can it be under the First Amendment, legally enforceable.” Translation: “We’re not accountable and you can’t make us.”

Soon-to-be-former State Rep. Welch may have a legitimate beef with whatever press coverage led him to the hare-brained notion that journalists could be held accountable in any way for their coverage of elected officials or Richard Jewell or anyone else. But because he is a Republican, Welch should know that no Republican, conservative, or conservative idea will ever receive any sort of favorable, or even neutral coverage by the Atlanta media outlets run by Cox Media.

For instance, when questions were raised about then-candidate Lucy McBath’s homestead exemption on her home in Tennessee while also claiming a homestead exemption in Cobb County, the AJC decided it was a “non-story.” It’s now enough of a story that Cobb does not recognize her Cobb address as her permanent residence, and is demanding the legal maximum amount of back-taxes on her Cobb County property. Karen Handel raised this very question during the 2018 election -might voters have wanted to know this information before they voted? We’ll never know, but we do know that while the AJC didn’t care and couldn’t be made to, it took one of those oft-derided “bloggers,” Jessica Szilagyi at AllOnGeorgia, to stay on the story and report it at all.

Conservative proposals don’t get a fair shake, either -just look the pernicious and false idea that private school vouchers “take money from the public education system.” It’s a lie that is ALWAYS reported, in alliance with the educrats and in defiance of basic math. (Because a student who gets a hypothetical voucher gets some public money for his or her education but is taken out of the public school system, the public school system would be relieved of the entire cost burden of that student, thereby creating a cost savings for the public school system. See how easy that was to explain? If the education reporters ever do that, I’ll enroll in an accredited Unicorn Racing School.)

The other thing that Rep. Welch needs to understand is that most reporters believe their views are straight-down-the-middle moderate and that altering them in the slightest way would make them “partisan hacks.” They deliberately resist any attempts to explain your side with additional facts or a different perspective as completely unnecessary “spin.”  Remember David Foster Wallace’s goldfish that doesn’t understand the concept of wet? Explaining things to the press is like offering that goldfish a towel.

I don’t mean to berate Rep. Welch, who’s mostly kept his head down, had some pretty admirable accomplishments during his tenure, and hasn’t drawn any unwanted attention to the State or the State House. Until now. And since he’s not going to seek reelection, the passage of his well-intended but futile bill will be left in the hands of his presumed successor, State Rep. Don Quixote.


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