Books -- Campaigns and Conscience: The Ethics of Political Journalism by Philip Seib
Denham, Bryan, The Journalism Educator
*Seib, Philip (1994). Campaigns and Conscience: The Ethics of Political Journalism. Westport, Conn.: Praeger. 160 pp. Paperback, $16.95. Hardback, $49.95.
In Campaigns and Conscience Philip Seib, an associate professor of journalism at Southern Methodist University and a columnist for the Dallas Morning News, discusses the ethical dilemmas that sometimes confront political journalists.
Seib begins this eight-chapter text by discussing the symbiotic relationship that exists between political candidates, voters, and reporters. Under the tenets of Democracy theory, the reporter is charged with ensuring robust debate over matters of legitimate public concern during election campaigns. And while the author finds ample room for improvement, he also believes that certain media companies deserve recognition for their reporting during the 1992 election year. The Charlotte Observer, for example, committed itself to informing its readers about important issues in '92 and made every effort to discount the political horserace that contemporary journalists find so hard to resist. Seib follows this example with thoughts on how other media companies might also improve their campaign coverage.
The book's real strength lies in the voice of its author, who uses historical examples to support many of his major points. He discusses, for instance, the ethical boundary that Horace Greeley and William Randolph Hearst crossed when they used their newspapers to foster their personal and political agendas. Contemporary journalists, Seib charges, must be wiser.
"Being competent isn't just a good idea; it's an ethical responsibility," he writes. "To put it another way, a journalist has an ethical responsibility not to be an idiot." This colorful introduction of new topics before moving into more substantive discussion makes the book both enjoyable and enlightening. Seib doesn't lose himself in esoteric thought, which means upper-division undergraduates and professional-track master's students will appreciate this text.
The above quotation from Seib begins his chapter on journalists' competence, a section in which he describes the passive reporting common to the savings and loan scandals and the "end-run" tactics of 1992 presidential candidate Ross Perot. …