Over the summer, James Pinkerton was paid by Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann to write her new book. At the same time, Pinkerton was also paid by Fox News to offer commentary on the presidential campaign, without disclosing his role in the Bachmann campaign.
Making matters slightly worse, Fox News knew about this, and urged Pinkerton to hide the truth about his role from the public.
Pinkerton said this week, “They said, ‘Don’t tell anybody,’ I said, ‘Okay.’ I told my superiors at Fox and they knew.”
Remember, Fox News presents itself as a legitimate, independent news organization.
Not surprisingly, those familiar with professional journalistic standards have a few concerns. Alex Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, said, “Fox News has failed Journalism Ethics 101. This is a transparent breach of the most fundamental journalism ethics. I think it is outrageous that they would have allowed this.”
He’s not the only one.
David Zurawik, media critic for The Baltimore Sun, finds hypocrisy in Pinkerton being secretive while appearing on Fox News Watch, a media criticism program.
“All the dishonesty is multiplied by him doing this on a media review show,” Zurawik said. “First of all, a media review show is the last place a guy who tries to shade his conflicts of interest this way and keep necessary information from viewers should be. And if Fox News knew, it tells you what management there thinks of telling the truth on such shows.”
He later stated: “If Fox knew and did allow this, it gives lie to all of their P.R. about how unfair it is to call them biased. They can trot Bret Baier out all they want, but if they allow this kind of dishonest behavior, they are not an honest news operation that citizens should trust.”
Bill Kovach, founder of the Committee of Concerned Journalists and former New York Times Washington, D.C., bureau chief, called the actions “deceitful.”
“Both Pinkerton and Fox withheld deeply relevant information from their audience,” he said in an email. “It was deceitful. Such self-interested information undermines any claim either to journalism, the interest of their viewers as citizens or the larger public interest.”
Tom Fiedler, former Miami Herald editor and currently dean of the College of Communication at Boston University, added that those at Fox who knew about the conflict and didn’t care “should be fired.”
And if Fox News were a real news network, they might be.
Keep this in mind the next time someone argues with a straight face that Fox has journalistic integrity.