Monday, September 26, 2016

Conflicts of Interest

Lucas Macce-Feiler

Photo courtesy of

Conflicts of interest pervade throughout different forms of media despite ethical codes and general guidelines prohibiting their presence.

In a perfect scenario, mass media avoids any conflict of interest, whether it is a reporter's relationship to a company he is writing about or a public relations professional representing a person or company in direct opposition to his or her personal beliefs or connections.

Conflicts of interest don't even have to be real or readily present. There can be potential conflicts of interest, as well as perceived conflicts of interest. 

A reporter may personally know a witness in a story, but the witness is aware of the ramifications of their relationship and pivotal to the story. While there may not be any actual conflicts of interest, the public--or fellow reporters--can easily perceive that to be the case.

Sometimes, conflicts of interest are very real and very problematic. As explained by Roger Aronoff in his article "Media Downplay Their Conflicts of Interest," the Obama Administration has various ties to mainstream media outlets. Aronoff points out that David Axelrod, a former senior advisor to President Obama, moved to MSNBC as a political analyst (He has since moved to CNN in September 2015).

Aronoff makes a compelling point, but his view is decidedly one-sided, exclusively calling out ties between the media and the Obama administration. This is a common complaint of conservatives.

One doesn't have to look very hard to find conflict of interests on the other side of the political spectrum. Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager of Donald Trump, joined CNN after being ousted from the Trump campaign. 

While Lewandowski's official duty is to give an inside perspective of Trump's campaign, he acts more like a mouthpiece than an analyst. In fact, Lewandowski continues to receive payment from the Trump campaign while working for CNN.

The truth is many political correspondents will have conflicts of interest because of their background in the field. There are an increasing amount of former political aides taking these positions rather than tried-and-true journalists.

Pay-for-play journalism is another issue dealing with conflicts of interest. Ryan Chittum dubs it "checkbook journalism" in his article for Columbia Journalism Review. In particular, Chittum takes issue with Rupert Murdoch's media behemoth, News Corp.

Chittum states that Murdoch creations The Sun and News of the World both used money in exchange for information for stories. Money is something that should never find its way into a story, but sadly creeps in one way or another.

Independence is a core tenant of ethical journalism and when conflicts of interest come into play, independence becomes compromised. Whether it is "checkbook journalism" or improper relationships within a news organization and the subject its covering, conflicts of interest have no place in the newsroom.

This is not an ideal world, though. And it's a small one, too. There will inevitably be relationships that cross paths during the course of a reporter's career. There's also no way of stopping outlets such as TMZ and National Enquirer. However, responsible media professionals have a responsibility to mitigate and avoid these circumstances as much as possible.

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