Boquet for HoS – attempting to come clean on Veitch

April 26, 2009

I would like to congratulate Shayne Currie and David Fisher for the piece in today’s Herald on Sunday [Inbside the Veitch media circus] and for getting Tim Pankhurst to at least put something on the record about the genesis of the whole caravan.

I was interviewed for David’s story and in the course of our long-ish chat I raised the idea that the Dom Post and the other media outlets, who bought into the story subsequently, actually owed the public a certain level of disclosure about sources.

I know this flies in the face of accepted ethical wisdom about protecting sources and so-called “shield laws”, but I argue that in this case the motivation of sources is actually a key element of the story.

This is particularly salient when everyone involved – editors, journos, PR managers and the central protagonist – all admit that scrambling for the media high ground (and a position of control) was a key objective of both sides.

Unfortunately, we – the readers and viewers – were not privy to who the sources were, though in David’s piece, the Team Veitch PR expert, Glenda Hughes, says that she was reactive to the media most of the time and only admitted to “selling” a story on one or two occasions.

I am still mulling over a more considered and lengthy post on this story. In my view it is a fantastic case study of media actions – in this case feeding on one of its own – almost an act of cannibalism. I’m sure none of us (media people) would like to be in Tony Veitch’s shoes and see our career shredded.

I actually have sympathy for everyone caught in the shockwaves of this story.

Kristin Dunne Powell has been unfairly and disgustingly labeled a “bunny boiler” [cultural reference to Sharon Stone’s character in Basic Instinct]. Her life will never be the same again.

Tony Veitch does not at the moment have a life – he is medically unfit for work, marriage and friendship – he may well be the “author” of his own misfortune, but he got plenty of help from the news media.

Zoe Veitch is also a victim, her performance during the whole saga was as “stoic wife”, but she too got dragged through the PR fence backwards from time to time.

The families of key figures are all scarred and substantially out-of-pocket. Therefore we have to ask, was it worth it? Was the public interest really served by the attention this story got?

I don’t think the media covered themselves in glory on this story. I will post something more substantial later.

I’m also considering doing an academic paper on this for a journalism studies conference in December. If anyone would like to talk to me about it, particularly any journos or editors, I’d love to hear from you.

ethicalmartiniATgmail.com is the best way to get in touch. Or you can leave a comment to this post. For the record, if you leave a comment I will assume that it is public and that you consent to me using it in any research publication that results (eg: conference paper and/or journal article).


Veitch and Holmes – on-the-record is forever

March 1, 2009

The Tony Veitch saga continues to get front page treatment in the Sunday papers. In this week’s installment the Herald on Sunday reports on its own involvement in the case and a police warrant to search the paper’s office.

The last time I had a serious go at the HoS, I got an irate call from editor Shayne Currie and an offer (or maybe a challenge) that I spend some time in the paper’s newsroom to see for myself how it worked and how the integrity of its reporting is maintained. I was just about to leave on an extended overseas trip, so couldn’t take up the offer, but I fully intend to…as soon as I get the book manuscript off my desk.

Anyway, as I told Shane last year, I am not having a go at individuals, nor do I pick on any particular paper or media outlet in my commentary. My aim is to put on the table some discussion points and to provoke debate. That’s my intention this week and it also happens that there’s a Rosemary McLeod column in the Sunday Star Times on the Vietch story; so I intend to be very even-handed.

The statement that caught my eye in the HoS story (page 3 in the print edition) was:

Editor Shayne Currie said the newspaper would co-operate with police in accordance with police guidelines for media searches, but would not breach any journalistic ethics. He said he would be taking legal advice as well as consulting Holmes before deciding whether the tape would be handed over.  [HoS hit by Veitch search warrant]

I am curious about how this ethico-legal paradox might unfold.

Meanwhile, over at the SST, Rosemary McLeod is sounding off about the use of lawyers to stifle debate – in particular attempts to gag journalists and commentators through the use of legal threats. As reported last week, Veitch’s legal and PR machine is threatening to go after media outlets which, they believe, might be having a go at Tony.

Rosemary is not happy about it:

What the public doesn’t know is how often the threat of legal action silences the media.[Money talks – we are gagged]

Really, is it all that common?

Read the rest of this entry »


McCain, elections, ethics and smears

February 23, 2008

I’m watching with interest the American presidential primaries. I can’t make up my mind about Obama and/or Clinton. I’m inclined to argue that a vote for Barak Obama is more of a threat to the US political status quo than a vote for Hilary Clinton. It’s a judgment about whether race or gender is the more volatile fault line in the American psyche.
I tend to lean towards Obama and a vote for a black man over a white woman; mainly because white women were never tortured and murdered like African Americans, or suffered under the racist and segregationist Jim Crow laws. Though of course, if you go back far enough into American history it’s clear that witches were hated, feared and hunted down too during colonial times.

But today, I’m interested in coverage of the recent New York Times piece outlining some historical allegations that Republican candidate John McCain has a shaky record on conflicts of interest.

The Times has come under fire from other media, particularly the Fox network and the paper’s also had over 3000 email and blog questions posted by readers. I’ve read the Times piece and it seems reasonably balanced to me. It’s quite long and detailed, but critics say it relies too heavily on anonymous sources.

The paper justifies using anonymous sources on the grounds that the story was of great public interest and needed to be told. I have no issue with this; what I find more interesting is the question posed by a reader about the NYT’s endorsement of McCain. Here’s the exchange:

Why Did The Times Endorse McCain?

Q. Why did The New York Times strongly endorse Senator McCain to be the Republican Party nominee in January, if at the same time the paper was well aware of and continuing to investigate what it considered to be front-page, damaging, “un-presidential” charges?

— Debbie Collazo, Tucson, Ariz.

A. The short answer is that the news department of The Times and the editorial page are totally separate operations that do not consult or coordinate when it comes to news coverage and endorsements or other expressions of editorial opinion. We in the newsroom did not speak to anyone at the editorial page about the story we were working on about Senator McCain. They did not consult us about their deliberations over endorsements of the presidential candidates. I’m the political editor, and the first I knew of the McCain endorsement (and of the endorsement of Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side) was when I read them in the newspaper. In all of our internal discussions about the news story subsequent to the endorsement, I do not recall anyone bringing it up.

(As an aside, I think it’s fair to say that most of our political reporters would prefer that the paper not endorse candidates. Endorsements inevitably create the perception among some voters that The Times is backing a candidate on an institutional level, leaving those of us on the news side to explain over and over that our coverage is not influenced by what our colleagues on the editorial page write.)

As your question suggests, this particular situation was especially odd because most everyone in politics and journalism — including, I assume, our colleagues on the editorial page — knew we were working on a story about Senator McCain, courtesy of an item on Drudge in December. Whether that influenced the editorial page’s deliberations, I have no idea.

But it meant that there were a lot of people speculating for months about what kind of story we were pursuing and whether and when we were going to publish it. This didn’t influence the timing or the substance of the story at all, but I do think it created a situation in which opinions and battle lines about the story began to develop long before the actual story was published.

— Richard W. Stevenson, political editor

Sure, Richard, you can maintain the fiction that the newsroom and the editorial decision-making are at arms-length.
It’s the dialectic of the front page. The story is too big to ignore and you’ve got it as an exclusive, so go for it, but don’t pretend that Mahogany Row doesn’t know exactly what’s going on newswise and can intervene at any time.


More on Ms Mirthala Salinas

July 6, 2007


The Spanish-language television news anchor, Mirthala Salinsa, who has been outed for a two-year affair with Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, (shown pictured, right) continues to make headlines around the world.

Ms Salinas has been condemned for a serious breach of ethics – basically that reporters don’t sleep with sources. I’ve been around long enough to know that this is not the first, or last time this will happen. Politico-journo marriages and affairs have been a staple of reporters’ bar room gossip for hundreds of years. News is sexy; it’s exciting and there’s always plenty of hormonal “juice” in the air.

However, that’s no justification it seems. This is because the other side of journalism is quite nasty. If there’s blood in the water, or a sniff of scandal in the air, all bets and confidences are off.

The bottom line though, is that the noise and blather about this case is hypocritical. The unwritten code has always been, “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” but when the rumours are confirmed, like in this story, “move in for the kill.”

Unfortunately, the mayor will probably survive – after all he’s a bloke who can’t keep it in his pants (entirely excusable in the topsy-turvy world of sexual politics). She on the other hand is obviously a sl*t who’s an insatiable Latina nymphomaniac and she deserves to be burned at the stake like the obvious witch she is (I’m being sarcastic here, just in case you can’t read between the lines).

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