Illegally Obtained Info Is a Big Scoop–or a Non-Story

The New York Times‘ reporter on the climate beat, Andrew Revkin, had a front-page story this weekend (11/20/09) detailing the contents of climate scientists’ private emails discussing global warming. Predictably, the emails are being taken out of context by climate change deniers–but more interesting to me is the fact that the focus is on the content of the emails, not on the fact that they were illegally obtained.

That’s not the way corporate media handled the illegally taped cell phone call between Newt Gingrich, John Boehner and other Republican congressmembers in which Gingrich violated the terms of a ethics sanction by strategizing about how to minimize the charges against him. In that case, they focused on the illegality of the taping–and the unauthorized leaking of the tape by Rep. Jim McDermott (D.-Wash.).

That’s also not how the press handled the case of Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Michael Gallagher, who illegally listened to voicemails at the Chiquita corporation in pursuit of a series of stories that charged the company with involvement in bribery, fraud and the abuse of workers. Again, the wrongdoing that was considered newsworthy was the reporter’s, not the target of his investigation.

It’s hard to imagine what ethical code would tell journalists to ignore information about corporate skullduggery or congressional ethics violations if it was obtained through illicit means, but if it concerns the academic politics of climate scientists–dig in!

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.