Political Communication Ethics: An Oxymoron?

Political Communication Ethics: An Oxymoron?

Political Communication Ethics: An Oxymoron?

Political Communication Ethics: An Oxymoron?


This essay collection examines ethical concerns related to the traditional areas of political communication, including campaigns, media, discourse, and advertising, as well as new technologies, including the Internet.


As you know, in a deposition in January, I was asked questions about my relationship with Monica Lewinsky. While my answers were legally accurate, I did not volunteer information. Indeed, I did have a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. . . . I know that my public comments and silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including my wife.

--President Bill Clinton, Federal Document
Clearing House, August 17, 1998

Since the beginning of time, humans have expressed a concern for ethics. Plato Republic is essentially a work of political ethics, as is Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics. For both Plato and Aristotle, the "good" person was a conscientious citizen contributing to the city-state. The notion of civic virtue implies a citizenry that is informed, active, selfless, enlightened and, above all, just.

The disciplines of rhetoric and communication studies have long been interested in the subject of ethics. There is universal agreement that human communication demands concern for ethics. Richard Johannesen (1996) argues that

potential ethical issues are inherent in any instance of communication between humans to the degree that the communication can be judged on a right-wrong dimension, involves possible significant influence on other humans, and to the degree that the communicator consciously chooses specific ends sought and communicative means to achieve those ends. (2) . . .

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