Free Speech Is Great; Just Please Don't Speak Freely


So, not only are newspaper reporters expected to keep their opinions to themselves, now comes unintentionally hilarious word that their editors think they damn well better self-censor their own private e-mails as well. From Washington Post sourpuss Len Downie, co-author of one of the worst books I've ever read:

"Our policy says they are not supposed to express any opinions in public about things they cover. … I expect (Post reporters) to be sophisticated enough to be aware of anything they put in print. You are a Washington Post reporter, not Joe Blow."

Asked whether this also applied to private emails, he replied: "I would expect that reporters would realize they would be covered by that."

Maybe it's time to get back in touch with their inner Blow. Then there's this creepy comment from the editor of The Buffalo News:

"There is a really large gray area about what you can tell people to do in their non-working time."

Link via Romenesko.

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  1. I don’t think it’s that creepy. The fact is, there IS a large gray area there. For example, we can probably agree that newspapers can tell their reporters not to sign political petitions, march in partisan rallies, etc., even if it’s on their own time. Personal e-mail … eh. I’m not crazy about my employer telling me what to say there. But that’s why they call it a gray area.

  2. This seems to be an American thing, and moreover a modern American thing. The European press wears its political ideology on its sleeve. The American Press used to (that’s why papers were called the Tallahassee Democrat, the Laclede County Republican and so forth).

    Personally, I’d rather have the bias up-front. Reporters have opinions. Papers have editorial “lines.” That’s just a fact. Telling reporters not to talk about what they think isn’t going to change that … and I think most people are smart enough to realize that the bia is there.

    Tom Knapp

  3. newspaper reporter — In my idealized world, you could do or say whatever the hell you wanted (short of murder & stuff), and your newspaper would encourage you to *disclose*, rather than conceal. If a reporter’s actions in non-working time would make that disclosure embarrassing, well that’s an excellent sign the reporter should be taken off that particular beat (assuming for the moment that the “infraction” would be beat-related, rather than some nonsense about “you attended some vague rally once!”).

  4. I agree. The crusade to remain free of bias leads reporters/writers to jump through all sorts of ridiculous hoops to avoid the perception that they are making a judgment on anything.

    If newspapers would drop this illusion of impartiality, I wager they’d see their circulation rise.

  5. Back in my youth, when I went to church, one of the things the preachers and teachers said still ticks me: conduct yourself in such a way that you do not lead others into temptation and onto the slippery slope, etc.
    I finally decided, if I took that seriously, I’d be paranoid.
    That’s close to this topic isn’t it?
    I mean just let me be me, and if you want to be me, okay, but it might be better if u-b-u.

  6. “I mean just let me be me, and if you want to be me, okay, but it might be better if u-b-u.”

    I learned that lesson from Schoolhouse Rock. God bless them. Princes among men, I tell ya.

  7. Maybe it’s time to get back in touch with their inner Blow. Then there’s this creepy comment from the editor of The Buffalo News:
    “There is a really large gray area about what you can tell people to do in their non-working time.”


    I agree with this in a purely dispassionate libertarian way. But I think (believe) that the Buffalo News was really referring to something specific. It’s quite normal (Please, please correct me if I’m wrong) for news organizations to ‘clip the wings’ or dictate what reporters can do in the personal time, when there could be conflicts with their profession. We’re not talking about dope smoking, or wearing a dress. Most reporters, for instance, get permission from their respective organizations of they write a book.

  8. Paul — That it’s quite normal doesn’t mean it isn’t creepy. Urine testing is quite normal in newspaper newsrooms … and it’s creepy! I believe, as I mentioned above, that reporters should do what they like, just disclose to their bosses (and preferably to their readers) when what they do poses a conflict with, or indicates a bias about, something they cover. Some newsrooms (though this is rare) discourage their reporters from even belonging to political parties …. And while *I* don’t belong to any political party, for reasons that have plenty to do with my trade, I think making a rule about that is just plumb loco.

  9. I too think newspapers should be as ideological as they want. Hell, here in NYC everybody knows where all the local papers stand. But in Buffalo, and in most other American cities, there is only one daily newspaper. Perhaps if the News wore its liberalism on its sleeve, another newspaper or two would rise to fill in the gaps (much like the old days!). It happened here in New York very recently: the New York Sun started up specifically targeted at conservative readers who want serious news (as opposed to the junk printed by the Post).

  10. Anytime anybody, especially a journalist or public figure, sends an email they should read it twice and think how it would look if published in a newspaper before they hit the send button. You have no control over what the recipient might do with it.

  11. Matt is 100% right on. The reason this crap is so creepy (and pervasive) is that all the hiding and pretending (i.e. the New York Times is fair an unbiased, etc.) leads to CYA and PC policies that totally errode the freedom of the press, not to mention the freedoms of the reports and the confidence of the reading public at large.

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