SMPA ethics project works to compile ethics textbook in first year

Media Credit: Sydney Walsh | Photographer

Peter Loge, an associate professor of media and public affairs, is the director of the Project on Ethics in Political Communication.

Peter Loge said a recent conversation with a former student at a Campaigns and Elections event reminded him about the role ethics should play in educating future politics professionals.

The student, who had taken one of Loge’s courses about 10 years earlier, said the ethics-oriented curriculum made him a better political consultant and kept him “out of jail.” Loge said the student’s professional experience is indicative of the need to incorporate ethics into the classroom through an initiative the School of Media and Public Affairs began about one year ago.

“He’s winning awards for the advertising he’s doing, and he’s doing it in a way that’s above all, ethical and effective – that’s pretty cool,” he said.

Loge, an associate professor of media and public affairs and director of the Project on Ethics in Political Communication – which hosts events and promotes research in the field – said that in the project’s first year, he has focused on editing a textbook on ethics in politics. Loge said he hopes to hire more student research associates on the project and integrate the project’s content – like readings from the textbook – into SMPA’s curriculum moving forward.

“The first time you come across an ethical challenge shouldn’t be at 10 p.m. at your first job out of school a week before an election,” Loge said. “You should probably have thought about that question somewhere in the Media and Public Affairs building.”

Loge said the textbook – called Political Communication Ethics, Theory and Practice – includes chapters on topics like opposition research and political speechwriting authored by current and former political communication professors and practitioners. He added that he plans to incorporate information from the textbook into the syllabus for his Political Communication Ethics course once the book is published this summer.

Loge said he hopes to institutionalize education on ethics in political communication at SMPA similar to the role ethics plays in fields like law and medicine.

“As you learn the skills of your trade, you’re also learning some of the ethical challenges you face,” Loge said. “It’s not that you’re an unethical person, and you take the class, and you’ll suddenly become a good human being, it’s that we tend to make decisions in the moment and the more you think about those moments ahead of time, the more likely you are to make good decisions.”

He said the project’s work so far has been focused on coordinating the team of experts contributing to the textbook, but the project will host more events and create more educational resources after the textbook is published.

The project has hosted events like a discussion between GW College Democrats President Keith Nagy and College Republicans Chair John Olds about ethics in political communication. He said he hopes to host more events, like panel discussions, through the project moving forward to grant students opportunities to learn about ethics from seasoned political communication professionals.

Loge added that the project will host a discussion on ethics in political speechwriting on March 11 to celebrate the project’s one-year anniversary.

“We’re building to a point where we can really draw on all of the interest here at GW,” he said.

Conor Kilgore, a political communication major and project research associate, said he and Loge are currently developing short “case studies” detailing ethical quandaries students may encounter in their future political careers, like the ethically contentious 2012 Missouri Senate race.

During the race, incumbent U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., spent nearly $2 million on an advertisement designed to aid the primary campaign of an opponent she thought she could defeat in the general election.

Kilgore added that integrating content from the project into SMPA curricula will teach students how to handle ethical dilemmas before beginning their professional careers. He said encouraging students to assess the role of ethics in political communication will discourage future politicos from making dishonest statements or attacking political opponents’ family members.

“If you’re going to be working for our American political system, something bigger than yourself, you need to be upholding high moral standards,” Kilgore said.

SMPA Associate Director David Karpf said the project “extends” Loge’s emphasis on ethics in political communication in the classroom to a wider audience of both students and professionals.

“The project is entering a conversation about ethics and political communication that desperately needs to happen in society and isn’t happening anywhere else,” Karpf said.

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