By Marisa Demarco
I'm not one to care about whether a politician cheats on his or her spouse. Truly, I suspect lots of them do—along with all kinds of regular people.
Every journalist knows the rules. "You can't interview your friends and family," was one of the first things we told new writers at my college paper. You should also maybe mention when the mayor you write copy about is also your lover. For instance, when you're reporting on his separation from his wife of 20 years. Telemundo newscaster Mirthala Salinas had an affair with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. (That's a whole other kind of coverage. Zing!)
And the villagers whisper, "scandal, scandal, scandal." The really surprising thing is that she wasn't fired for her ethical breach. It was announced at the beginning of this month that she would be suspended for two months instead. Everyone's blaming Salinas for punching holes in the station's credibility, but I'd say that light slap on the wrist rips gashes in the hull more than her actions ever could.
The news releases come in every day:
Politician X Kisses Babies, Cures Illnesses
Using superpowers and mad science, Politician X can cure children of the common cold. "Given the nature of the common cold and the great need for nationalized health care in our society, I find my considerable healing skills are invaluable—particularly to blue-collar workers, among the most likely to catch the common cold," he said.
Yeah. Sure he did. Sure he just said that, whipping off that sentence as he rushed down the hall for a warm up at the coffee machine. Sure his flak or his speech writer didn't type that up and insert it into the release.
Quotes are sacred. They should embrace only those sentences that were actually uttered. Now, no journalist wants to use the quotes that come in news releases and most writers should cite it when a quote gets lifted from one. But some days, Politician X just won't call you back. Even I've been known to use the news release quote (cited, of course) a time or two.
But no more. I hereby vow to stop using fake news release quotes and urge readers to look down their noses at that familiar phrase: Politician X said in a news release.
Journalists go to jail for protecting sources, and you'll see some version of the story in almost every paper in the country. Chauncey Bailey, editor of the Oakland Post was shot and killed in broad daylight, possibly by a member of a group he was investigating, according to his fiancé, Deborah Oduwa. And where is everyone? California media is all over it. The Washington Post had an interesting story about black activist groups gone awry and how that might have played a role in Bailey's death. The New York Times mentioned something, but it seems that few other outlets did. Bailey sacrificed his life to his craft, his fearlessness prompting him to write on topics others wouldn’t touch. Take note.
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