Six panelists discussed truth in reporting during the Kalb Report’s series on the ethics of journalism at the National Press Club Friday.
The panelists and host Marvin Kalb discussed journalists taking deceitful measures to get a story.
“Is journalism always expected to tell the truth when getting a story?” asked Kalb, former chief diplomatic correspondent for CBS and NBC and moderator of “Meet the Press.”
Panelist and CBS News Washington Bureau Chief Al Ortiz said not necessarily, an exception always exists to the rule.
“Deception is a tool of last resort to be used only in instances that warrant its use and when information can’t be acquired any other way,” Ortiz said.
But with the exception of the New York Times Washington Bureau Chief Mike Oreskes, all the panelists said they never took deceitful measures to get a story.
Oreskes said when he was an editor in New York for the Times, he asked an Asian writer if she would go undercover in a New York City sweatshop to expose unlawful labor practices.
Oreskes said it might have been deceptive, but it was not a harmful practice. All of the parties involved in the sweatshop story were told about the story before it was published, Oreskes said.
The panelists agreed that tolerance for deceptive journalism has grown significantly in recent years, and is at its highest point ever.
They agreed that truth in reporting has become a challenge since local and tabloid television shows promote themselves using deceptive techniques to attract viewers.
But Ortiz said, “The techniques of deception, (such as) the hidden camera, are becoming less of a novelty . it’s losing its entertainment value.”
However, the panel said that these practices have become prevalent in covering stories relating to Americans’ mistrust of government.
Kalb said Americans turn to the media “to expose government at any cost.”
But Oreskes said people question the media’s credibility because of deceptive journalism.
“Our credibility is so shady that we have to be careful how we handle it,” Oreskes said. “We need to be sure that we are believed. You shun things that undermine your credibility . It is wrong to lie, wrong to be deceptive. We undermine our own credibility and that’s all we have.”
The taped discussion will air on local television stations as well as CBS Radio Network’s 507 nationwide affiliates.
Professor, author and veteran journalist, Kalb established the report as a visiting professor at GW in 1994.
Co-producer of the Kalb Report and GW Director of Public Affairs Mike Freedman said one of the upcoming Kalb Reports this spring will feature a one-on-one discussion with veteran journalist Walter Cronkite.