Campaigns and Conscience: The Ethics of Political Journalism

Campaigns and Conscience: The Ethics of Political Journalism

Campaigns and Conscience: The Ethics of Political Journalism

Campaigns and Conscience: The Ethics of Political Journalism


Seib examines the ethical issues underlying the volatile relationship between journalists and politicians. It provides an inside look at how reporters and candidates do their jobs. From the screening process news organizations use to decide which candidates to cover, to the truth-testing of political ads, to the controversies surrounding election night projections, this work articulates crucial ethical questions and helps readers in their search for answers. As a political communications text, Campaigns and Conscience looks at the many facets of political journalism: what reporters need to know before covering a campaign; how to approach the character issue; how to keep up with the frantic pace of a campaign; why campaign ads should be covered as news; the allure and dangers of polls, projections, and endorsements; and the responsibility of the press to cover one of the most powerful quasi-political institutions--the press itself.


The first reaction is always the same: "You're writing a book about the ethics of political journalism? How long is it going to be--ten pages?"

That's funny . . . and sad. Political journalism is important. So are its practitioners' ethics.

For a journalist, being assigned to a major political campaign is just about as good as being sent to cover a war.

News is always being made; adrenaline is always flowing. Your stories will often make page 1 or the top of a newscast. You're part of an elite band, a witness to history, a star. And, ideally, you're giving your constituents-- those who read or see or hear you--what they need to know to cast an informed vote.

That's the romanticized version. Reality is often less glorious: eighteen- hour workdays and seven-day workweeks; bumpy airplane rides and lumpy motel mattresses; searching for facts in candidates' speeches and looking for truth in the barrage of charges and countercharges.

The one constant is the public's need for information. However arduous or unsavory the job may become, you're still obligated to let your audience know what's going on, and to do so honestly and thoroughly.

Political news gathering differs from much else in journalism because of the dynamic tension that exists between reporters and those they cover. Most of the daily events that constitute news--such as the spectacular disaster or the grisly crime--demand certain reportorial enterprise and insight, but the subjects of those stories usually don't fight back and try to shape the news product the way politicians do.

Besides this tension, a mutual dependence exists between the politician and the journalist--one wanting to be covered, the other wanting some-

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