Is Ethical Journalism An Oxymoron?

Last week, in case you missed it, was “Ethics in Journalism Week,” sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists.

As a journalist and a member of the SPJ myself, I naturally visited the SPJ’s website to see how it was commemorating this occasion. As expected, the site was bursting with platitudes about journalism and journalists.

For example: “The SPJ Code of Ethics states that ethical journalism is truthful, compassionate, independent, and transparent. We need ethical journalism — and journalists who work each day with the profession’s highest standards in mind — for democracy and society to thrive.


“The Code doesn’t tell journalists to sugar coat the news, but it guides journalists to consider the impact of the articles they write, the photos and videos they take, and the words they use.”

In essence, the SPJ and its code say journalists should stick to facts and eschew exaggerations. Journalists should work to hold the nation’s powerbrokers accountable to the law and the people who put them in those positions. The public needs to trust the press to accomplish those missions.

So what happened? Why have a news media that in 1976 was trusted by 72 percent of the American public now only trusted by 29 percent, according to a recent Gallup/Knight Foundation poll?

Why, in a nation that loves to tout a “free press,” does the United States rank dead last among 46 nations when it comes to trust in the media?

According to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, just 28 percent of news consumers surveyed in the U.S. say they trust the news media compared with 65 percent in Finland, 61 percent in Kenya and Portugal, 59 percent in the Netherlands, and 54 percent in Brazil.

Even former communist nations such as Romania and the Czech Republic ranked higher than the U.S. at 48 and 42 percent, respectively.

So why is the United States at the bottom of the heap when it comes to trustworthy journalism?

One answer may be that half of Americans in the Gallup/Knight Foundation survey accused national news organizations of deliberately misleading, misinforming, or attempting to persuade the public to adopt a particular point of view through their reporting.

Are they mistaken?

No. They are spot-on.

In the past decade or so, American Journalism has lost its way. It has gone from reporting the news to propagandizing it. The media are skewing news to fit a political narrative or suppressing news that doesn’t support that narrative.

If you ask journalists about their political inclinations, they’ll likely tell you they are “centrists” who play things right down the middle; that they strive to be “fair and balanced/”

The facts show that is not true. The profound leftward ideological bias of the Big Media is the main reason why America is now steeped in “fake news.” Journalists, smitten with their own political and social beliefs, are no longer able to recognize their own pervasive prejudices.

That’s not surprising when just 4 percent of American journalists identify as conservative or somewhat conservative, while 71 percent say they are liberal, and another 25 percent claim to be “moderate,” according to researchers from Arizona State University and Texas A&M University who questioned more than a thousand journalists from the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press, and several other news organizations.

Compare those numbers with journalists in 1971. Republicans made up 25.7% of all journalists. Democrats were 35.5%, and independents were 32.5%. Some 6.3% of responses were “other,” according to a recent study entitled “The American Journalist in the Digital Age.”

Ideological diversity has essentially disappeared. When the partisan media are not working as publicists for the Biden administration and the Democrat party, they are covering up or ignoring stories that are damaging to them.

According to a study by media watchdog MRC NewsBusters, the big three networks have contrived to bury Biden family corruption stories from the public while, at the same time, flooding the country with stories about investigations into former President Donald Trump.

“Despite the House Oversight Committee digging up new dirt on President Joe Biden and his clan, the broadcast networks continue to censor revelations that Hunter, the President’s brother Jim, and Hallie Biden (widow of son Beau), received payments from a Chinese energy firm. Most recently, they whistled past more incriminating news on Biden’s improper handling of classified documents,” the report said.

Its analysis revealed that for 20 days (March 16-April 5, 2023), ABC, NBC, and CBS filled their evening, morning, and Sunday roundtable shows with over 658 minutes (10 hours, 58 minutes, 17 seconds) of Trump investigation coverage compared to ZERO seconds spent on Biden family corruption stories. On average, network audiences saw almost 33 minutes per day of Trump investigation stories.

NBC devoted the most amount of coverage to the Trump investigations (4 hours, 40 seconds), followed by ABC (3 hours, 40 minutes, 8 seconds) and then CBS (3 hours, 17 minutes, 29 seconds).

The contrast between the coverage of the Biden family scandals and the Trump investigations is truly astonishing.

Journalists are no longer functioning as unbiased observers. They are now advocates for whatever political views they hold. They are more concerned with pushing a political point or narrative than they are with providing unbiased, accurate, and balanced news to their readers, listeners, or viewers.

A trip down memory lane shows just how dishonest and corrupt our news media have become.

When the New York Post broke the blockbuster story about the infamous Hunter Biden laptop before the 2020 election, the story was banned on all social media outlets and all but ignored by the rest of the mainstream media.

In the not-so-distant past, journalists from competing news outlets would have jumped on the laptop story and dug deeper into it. Instead, they disparaged it and attempted to kill it—a deed that runs counter to the most basic instincts of any self-respecting journalist.

But good journalism has legs, and as we are now discovering via the House Oversight Committee investigation, the Biden laptop was NOT Russian disinformation as most media mavens insisted, and stories about the Biden family’s alleged corruption vis-a-vis China can no longer be disregarded.

Not even the allegedly impartial Public Broadcasting System is immune from shilling for Joe Biden.

Media watchdog MRC NewsBusters had this to say about a clearly slanted April 26 PBS NewsHour broadcast following Joe Biden’s announcement that he will run again for president in 2024:

“Tuesday’s PBS NewsHour displayed a stark partisan contrast in coverage. It began with eleven minutes of glowing promotional coverage of Biden’s re-election announcement, with no mention of Hunter Biden. They then followed with eight minutes of negative coverage about the civil rape trial of Donald Trump, as alleged by journalist E. Jean Carroll. It could be summed up as ‘PBS Shines Biden’s Shoes, Kicks Trump in the Groin.’”

“When Trump announced his 2024 campaign on November 15, 2022, the NewsHour show didn’t even include it as a highlight in the opening promos for the show. The story came 13 minutes into the show, and co-anchor Geoff Bennett then trashed Trump, grumbling, ‘The former twice-impeached president now facing multiple civil and criminal trials kicked off a 2024 presidential campaign…His hour-long speech was filled with false claims and inaccuracies.’”

PBS apparently stands for “President Biden’s Servants,” NewsBusters quipped.

You could fill volumes with examples of how the mainstream media run interference for Joe Biden while trashing Donald Trump, Republicans, conservatives, or Americans who dare to disparage the Biden administration.

Biden cheat sheet shows he was aware of the question to be posed by journalist

Take the story of our bumbler-in-chief getting busted using a cheat sheet that displayed questions submitted in advance by groveling White House reporters during last week’s press conference with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.

It may be the first time American reporters were required to submit written questions to a president in advance of a so-called “press conference.” At least two former press secretaries seemed to confirm that likelihood.

President George W. Bush’s first press secretary Ari Fleischer, who held the job from 2001 to 2003, tweeted, “The LA Times needs to investigate this. No WH reporter would ever tell me what question they intended to ask POTUS. It would be unethical – not to mention soft – to do so. The Times and this reporter have some explaining to do.”

Kayleigh McEnany, former President Donald Trump’s press secretary from 2020 to 2021, said in a TV interview, “It is incredible to me that reporters are giving their questions to Biden ahead of time.”

The New York Post was the first to report on the humiliating photo taken by an AFP photojournalist, which clearly revealed that Biden had advanced knowledge of at least one reporter’s question (LA Times reporter Courtney Subramanian).

Isn’t it interesting that it took an international photographer to make that shot? Are American photographers also in on the whitewashing of “Crooked Joe,” as Donald Trump now calls him?

In any case, that photo quickly went viral on social media, with dozens of conservative outlets picking up the story. Naturally, the big three evening news broadcasts and PBS had no interest in reporting that Biden’s White House toadies are now speciously screening reporters’ questions for our spluttering Führer.

Is “Cheatsheetgate” a scandal rising to the level of Hunter’s laptop or the corruption investigation into the Biden crime family?

Hardly. But it’s just another example of our mainstream media’s dishonesty and duplicity when it comes to press coverage of Joe Biden.

And it unquestionably confirms why the phrase “Ethical Journalism” is an oxymoron.

(Ronald E. Yates is a U.S. Army veteran, an author, a former Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent, and Professor & Dean Emeritus of Journalism at the University of Illinois.)

His website:

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6 thoughts on “Is Ethical Journalism An Oxymoron?”

  1. It’s everybody’s dream in a journalism school to write features, not to report. The curriculum is not intensive and does not have a lot of depth to it–everybody passes. So, once they squeak into a job it’s inevitable they will seek ways to unload their generally unmeasured, uninformed slants onto the public.

    • Accurate, hard-nosed reporting is difficult. Most students have neither the life experiences nor the mental stamina to do it well. It is much easier to focus on feature writing than investigative reporting. The Journalism Department at the University of Illinois is one of the few schools that offers intensive courses in investigative reporting. I know because I set it up more than ten years ago and hired a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist to teach it. A major problem in today’s newsrooms is the glaring lack of experienced mentors and editors from whom young journalists can learn the techniques and fundamentals of accurate and unbiased reporting. I had that advantage when I entered the Chicago Tribune’s newsroom right out of college in 1970. Newspapers today are shadows of their former selves–hollowed out by technology, social media, and owners and investors who are bleeding them dry.

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