Monday, February 26, 2007

Interesting Comments/Journalistic Ethics

Oregonian reporter Arthur Gregg Sulzberger writes on response to Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto's recent problems compared with what happened to Portland Police Chief Derrick Foxworth.

Sulzberger’s answers to why there was a difference in treatment run from racism to the difference between being elected (only the voters can throw you out) and appointed (if the Mayor or county commissioners find you a political liability, say “goodbye”).

Some of the people quoted in the article say funny things.

For example, the elected Portland City Auditor, thinks the sheriff should be appointed because the corrections officers union is too rich and strong and apparently has undue power over voters:

City Auditor Gary Blackmer says the corrections deputies union plays a big role in who is elected sheriff.

"There is no other elected office that is so dominated by a single collective bargaining group with a lot of money," says Blackmer, who, as county auditor, pushed for the position to be made appointed. "To a certain degree, the union decides who its boss will be."

Then there are elected County Commissioners Lisa Naito and Maria Rojo de Steffey and elected Judge Dale Koch:

Commissioners Lisa Naito and Maria Rojo de Steffey have said the sheriff should be appointed, a change voters would have to approve.

"I don't think that there's any doubt that had Giusto served at the pleasure of the county commission rather than being elected, he would have been fired," says Multnomah County Presiding Judge Dale Koch.

Giusto could be removed only through a recall election. Such votes are rare, labor-intensive and almost always unsuccessful.

Both Naito and Rojo de Steffey know about recall elections. The Oregonian backed a recall effort directed at them that failed to get needed signatures on time. Had Naito and Rojo de Steffey been appointed officials at the time, they probably would have been fired. Instead, they were re-elected--just like Giusto.

What’s not quite so funny as the above quotations is Sulzberger’s use of anonymous comments to tar Giusto. (A tactic also followed by fellow Oregonian reporter Michael Milstein in a January 29 article Experts square off on climate change on Oregon climatologist George Taylor which I commented on here.)

Discontent [with Giusto] has surged in recent months, however, with deputies growing embarrassed by the negative publicity. Privately, deputies question the ethical compass of a man who now carries a host of nicknames at the jails, including "The Teflon Sheriff" and "Porno Pants."

"I have trouble coming to work every day," says one longtime law enforcement deputy, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. "My stomach turns."

"He's so Teflon-coated, nothing sticks to him," says another longtime deputy. "I wish he was gone. He's a sleazeball."

[emphasis mine]

Is it ethical for reporters to publish anonymous slurs and criticisms of professional and personal conduct? Apparently it is for Oregonian reporters. One wonders if Sulzberger, son of New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., would like his nicknames and negative comments by anonymous co-workers to be published. Fortunately for Sulzberger, no Oregonian reporter is covering him.

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