The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The media just don't get it about ethics - Part 94: the gift of trees

[This story has benefited from a certain amount of rewriting...]

Judith Miller, the colon through which Ahmed Chalabi once regularly defecated on the New York Times readership, is protected from the consequences of her failures by the paper's editor and publisher - as previously noted here.

Karen Hosler, who writes about Maryland politics for the Baltimore Sun, has been ignominiously kicked out of her job for giving Governor Robert Erlich a specially planted tree in honour of his newly-born son.

The Sun brass, however, wet themselves - and Hosler is now doing - the piece doesn't say. On the Sun's obituary beat, perhaps?

They really take ethics seriously over at the Sun:
The Sun's unwritten ethics code prohibits staff members from accepting any gifts from news sources or making contributions to any political or advocacy groups.

Unwritten? How are the poor hacks to know what the ethics code says if its not written down? The implication is, it's not so much unwritten as made up by the brass as they go along.

What are the precedents? Hosler and her husband are apparently personal friends of the Erlichs. Maryland's a small state: there must be plenty of other similar relationships with Sun staff. Have none of them previously given friends in government a Christmas present?

Hosler's husband himself is in the State government, in the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention - as politically sensitive a policy area as there is at that level. Her entire marriage is an apparent conflict of interest! How come she was even employed by the Sun?

On the other hand, I suppose we have to congratulate the management of the Sun for having corrected every failure of journalistic ethics less serious than a gift of a tree - and, to be fair, for having done it without the sort of nauseating, self-congratulatory fanfare with which media organisations usually announce their successes. (No fanfare that I've heard, at least.)

Stopping using blind quotes from USG members speaking for the Administration, for instance; we really should have had a chance to applaud, got them a special Pulitzer or something.

But, then, who knew?


And what of the obsession with the lucrative? I'm not sure how close a friend of Erlich's Karen Hosler is; but say they'd been best buds since college. Isn't that a much greater conflict of interest than a casual acquaintance giving a low-value present?

My guess is that the senior journalists on the Sun have, in aggregate, hundreds of close relationships with various officials, elected and other, of the state of Maryland, with a complex network of favours done and awaiting repayment.

What does the unwritten code say about that?

[An earlier version of this piece featured a baby-bib. To allay confusion, the bib was a gift of Hosler's fellow Sun hack Pat Meisol, who has also fallen foul of the paper's witch-hunt.

According to Howie Kurtz's piece today, Meisol, unlike Hosler, isn't even a personal friend of the Erlich family: she sent the bib, it seems, so as not to make the Sun look like a bunch of tightasses.]

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