A Question of Ethics: Editorialist's Spouse Increases Political Activities
SITUATION: The spouse of an editorial writer at a midwest daily is becoming increasingly politically active.
The newspaper's policy prohibits newsroom employees from displaying political bumper stickers on their cars or political signs in their yards. The editorial writer's spouse ignores the prohibition and puts political signs in their yard. The spouse is even solicited to run for public office.
The editorial writer is concerned that neighbors will perceive that the writer is taking sides on political issues outside the editorial column, or approaching the job with a preconceived bias.
RESOLUTION: This is a tough one. Journalists are right to subject themselves to high ethical standards, which includes in many cases limiting their personal participation in local politics. But is it fair, or even reasonable, to subject their spouses to those same restrictions?
Editorial writers have an outlet for political expression. It isn't right to limit a spouse's simply to ease our conscience.
But the activities of spouses shouldn't be ignored if they could lead to a perception of bias or impropriety. In this instance, the editorial page editor decided no action was needed, despite the editorial writer's own concern.
The signs technically violated newspaper policy, but the newspaper has no authority over the spouse of an employee. …