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Laying It All Out

By Andy Alexander

Readers often see secret motives and hidden agendas in news stories and columns. In most cases, their suspicions are unfounded. But the perception is real.

One way to address it is transparency. In the aftermath of the “salons” controversy, The Post is updating its internal “Standards and Ethics” guidelines. When completed, they’ll be made public so readers can judge The Post against its own measurements of excellence.

But The Post might also consider having some of its writers offer a more detailed and personal sense of their ethics and how they operate. A model can be found on, a Web site -- owned by Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal -- that offers news, analysis and opinion on technology and the online world.

Co-executive editors Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, along with a small staff of writers and editors, have attached their own “Ethics Statement” to their online biographies on the site. They go a long way toward dispelling reader suspicions and building credibility.

Both Mossberg and Swisher begin theirs with: “Here is a statement of my ethics and coverage policies. It is more than most of you want to know, but, in the age of suspicion of the media, I am laying it all out.”

Mossberg, a Wall Street Journal veteran and one of the nation’s most influential technology writers, explains his role: “I am not an objective news reporter, and am not responsible for business coverage of technology companies. I am a subjective opinion columnist, a reviewer of consumer technology products and a commentator on technology issues.”

Then, he addresses notions that he might be influenced by those he covers. “I don’t accept any money, free products, or anything else of value, from the companies whose products I cover, or from their public relations or advertising agencies. I also don’t accept trips, speaking fees, or product discounts from companies whose products I cover, or from their public relations or advertising agencies. I don’t serve as a consultant to any companies, or serve on any corporate boards or advisory boards.”

Investments? “I don’t own a single share of stock in any of the companies whose products I cover, or any shares in technology-oriented mutual funds.”

All those electronic toys and gadgets he reviews? “The products I review are typically lent to me by their manufacturers for a few weeks or months. I return any products I am lent for review, except for items of minor value that companies typically don’t want back, such as computer mice or inexpensive software.” If he wants a product for personal use, “I buy it, at normal prices, or the Journal does.”

The ethics statement for Swisher, a former Post and Wall Street Journal reporter, is extraordinary in its detail about her personal life. She notes that her spouse, Megan Smith, is a top executive with Google. She then explains that a “substantial amount” of Smith’s income has come from Google shares and options, “some of which she has sold and some of which she still holds. Megan makes all her own decisions related to these shares and options, and I do not own or have future rights to own or control any of them.”

Swisher, who now is an independent contractor, goes on to explain that she still adheres to the Dow Jones Code of Conduct. Mossberg and other staffers do the same.

Dow Jones officials have told Swisher that her relationship with Smith does not preclude her from writing for the Web site. “While some may raise objections,” she writes, “Dow Jones feels the transparency will give readers a chance to judge my work on its merits.” Still, she acknowledges, “I know that I am asking for a large measure of trust from readers of the site, and I pledge to do everything I can to be deserving of that trust.”

Judging from the e-mails I receive, readers are especially curious about the ethics of those who review products, from cars to computers. They often want to know who foots the bill when a reporter travels with a candidate or who pays for the food critic’s meals at restaurants.

Mossberg, who lives in Washington, said today that the idea of personal “ethics statements” grew out of a desire to “be more transparent with readers” when was launched several years ago. It was a way to preempt those who “leap to the conclusion that you must be on someone’s payroll.”

Mossberg said “numerous” readers have expressed gratitude for the personal ethics statements.

By Andy Alexander  | July 29, 2009; 1:59 PM ET
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Another fine mess. Send all the readers to the competition now. You should be run off the property.

Posted by: Dermitt | July 29, 2009 6:53 PM | Report abuse

Looking forward to your confronting yet another blatant error on the WaPo's op-ed page - Feldstein's ridiculous column in which he claims Obmaa supports "a British-style 'single payer' system in which the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are salaried but that he recognizes that such a shift would be too disruptive to the health-care industry." Wrong. Just like George Will on climate change. Just like Bill Kristol on... well everything. I'm detecting a pattern of blatant dishonesty here.

Posted by: john7 | July 29, 2009 7:37 PM | Report abuse

“Readers often see secret motives and hidden agendas in news stories and columns. In most cases, their suspicions are unfounded. But the perception is real.”

You mean like if someone who is on the board of directors of a large pharmaceutical company and wrote a column about how bad health care reform would be without mentioning his relationship to the company?

I’m sure that no one selected to be on a board of directors would be so blatantly dishonest, and even if he were, the Post editorial board, with its “Standards and Ethics”, would make sure that readers knew about the author’s possible bias.

How do you know that in most cases our suspicions are unfounded? Do you read the Post’s opinion pages? It’s one lie after another, by one discredited neo-con after another.

Posted by: hgillette | July 30, 2009 3:19 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of "Standards and Ethics," when is the Post -- including Marcus Brauchli, Milton Coleman and the ombudsman -- going to address the Howard Kurtz conflict of interest regarding CNN head-on? It continues to be the elephant in the room, and the Post hierarchy chooses to bury its collective head in the sand.

This week, for instance, Kurtz went on the Hugh Hewitt radio program and denounced Chris Matthews of CNN rival MSNBC, rather than CNN's Lou Dobbs, as primarily to blame for fanning the flames of the birther controversy on cable television.

Why does the Post have an ethical blind spot regarding Kurtz? Selective ethics and ethical relativism put the Post on an espeially slippery slope in any effort to rebuild confidence after the "salons" debacle. If something we know about -- the reprehensible practice of Kurtz getting a regular paycheck from CNN, a network that's part of his national media beat -- is allowed to persist, how can we be confident that there aren't even worse ethical travesties among Post reporters that we DON'T know about?

Just how many Post reporters are on the payrolls of corporations that are part of their beats? If the honest answer by Brauchli, Coleman and the ombudsman turns out to be "One," then it leads to the obvious question: Why?

Posted by: Viewfinder | July 30, 2009 4:25 AM | Report abuse

p.s. The intended word was "especially." Please excuse the missing "c."

Posted by: Viewfinder | July 30, 2009 4:33 AM | Report abuse

Every now and then I wonder what is the so-called value of the independent newspaper to our society and our political process.

But then, by some long running story, one with many twists and turns of coverage, I am reminded that it is persistant focus on a complex issue or story that might otherwise be lost as a flash in the pan.

In this regard, what ever happened to that scandal story about the Post and the Salon dinner fees? It seems to have completely disappeard from Post coverage. Is that a coincidence, or is that how things get spiked in the newspaper world?

As a reader, I certainly do not concider this resolved, only covered up.

So yes, newspapers have an agenda, their own interests, behind their stories. It just is more complex and less overt than most readers think.

Posted by: krush01 | July 30, 2009 5:54 AM | Report abuse

Dish dirt and get covered up with the same. Fire in the hole boys. I have a planned new venture up in Detroit, so some troubles are worth more than others. Some people aren't worth the trouble to think about and are forgotten. Never mourn the not to be mourned. I have an idoctor friend if you forget the c, he can help you out. The government is planning on fixing his practice. Fixed bay o nets. Lay them all out and let the numbers speak for themselves. WPO is going up. It could always fall and end up like the General Mafia building a new world out of ashes and dust. Keep your steel sharp!

Posted by: Dermitt | July 30, 2009 8:56 AM | Report abuse

"In the aftermath of the 'salons' controversy, The Post is updating its internal 'Standards and Ethics' guidelines."

Good one. When did this officially become a humor column?

Posted by: tresangelas | July 30, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Readers often see secret motives and hidden agendas in news stories and columns. In most cases, their suspicions are unfounded.
Perhaps if newspapers (including the Washington Post) starting printing the truth this wouldn't be the case.

Best example, waterbording = torture. The US has called waterboarding torture, and declared it against human rights, for decades (including specific stories in the Washington Post), but it suddenly becomes "Enhanced Interrogation". Why? Because Cheney says so? Not exactly honest reporting there, is there?

Posted by: alysheba_3 | July 30, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse


SO HAWAII 'PRODUCES PROFF' OF BIRTH that it?, everyone is supose to swallow this one ,eh?


Just remember somethings ‘forgoten’ by many; Biden falsified documents at university studies, Gaithner is a tax cheater, Barney Frank, Reid, Cox, Soros, Pelosi,..and others weeds are masters in the economy destructive plot,…Obama himself, A PRODUCT FROM THE CHICAGO CORRUPTED POLITICAL ATMOSPHERE ...and there are others things too…..anyone can go into details and further research.____

So to sumize quickly,…all is CORRUPTION and DISHONESTY since ‘moment one’….no sensible mind would take anything as good or legitimate from this administration that is systematically destroying our country.
No-no-no, boys and girls , I will not swallow nothing from this people, to me and many many others, their credibility is = ZERO !___

Anyay, Obama, ‘THE FRONT-MAN’ ….here about him is very short – anyone interseted can go into details:___


A SMALL REMARK;___Since everything is corrupted and twisted from ‘moment one’ – starting with the CHICAGO CORRUPTED POLITICAL ATMOSPHERE FROM WHERE OBAMA COMES FROM,…and ending or culminating with the past FRAUDULENT ELECTION tainted with ACORN and other agencies of questionable integrity;….nobody,…I mean, NOBODY AT ALL, should be surprised if the so called ‘documentation’ for Obama’s birth certificate or ‘proof’ for it , is ALSO MORE FRAUD AND/OR ILLEGAL PRACTICES.___


And how is your day so far ?
Daniel Cabrera,

PS – The tv tabloids (NBC, CNN, MSNBC) , and tabloid publications such as , THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE HUFFINGTON POST, LA TIMES , etc,… along with what is left of the quasi-hypoitized brainless “utra-obamanized ” cool aid drinkers people, will not take this one lightly.

Posted by: morcab | July 30, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

From Charles Kaiser's Winners & Sinners column today:

Update: Over at Media Matters, Winner Jamison Foser, has pointed out that Howie-King-of-All-Conflicts-of-Interest-Kurtz has said nothing about the role of [CNN/US President Jon] Klein, [Lou] Dobbs or CNN in promoting the phony birther story–but chose to blame Chris Matthews for it instead!! “Think about that,” wrote Foser. “Howard Kurtz, who is a paid employee of CNN, blamed Chris Matthews, who hosts a show for CNN's competitor, for giving the birther nonsense attention. This despite the fact that Matthews has been debunking the theories. And Kurtz didn't say a word about Lou Dobbs, the person who has been pushing this garbage."


(Are the Post and its ombudsman officially or unofficially embarrassed by this? Or is conflict of interest something to which only lip service is paid?)

Posted by: Viewfinder | July 30, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps in the ombudsman's next column or blog, an answer to this question could be given, so the Post's attitude toward conflict of interest by its journalists can be better understood by readers looking to have their faith restored:

Would it be allowable for the Post's new TV critic, Hank Stuever, to have a weekly program of his own on one of the networks he covers, say ABC? If not, why not?

Posted by: Viewfinder | July 30, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse

"Readers often see secret motives and hidden agendas in news stories and columns. In most cases, their suspicions are unfounded."

No, these suspicions are NOT unfounded -- it's downright comical to claim that the Bushington Post's agendas and motives are hidden and secret. Why, they're as clear as day!

The Bushington Post has made it its mission since 2000 to faithfully regurgitate Republican talking points.

The vast majority of articles in the Bushington Post are filtered through the Republican viewpoint.

The BuPo has been shilling for the republicans for years. It just fired the one writer, Dan Froomkin, who cut through all your bull on a daily basis.

The BuPo is unethical, dirty, biased, and full of conflicts of interest. Look at Howard Kurtz whose wife is a paid conservative shill. And yet you fire Dan.

The BuPo is an embarrassment to true journalism.

Posted by: solsticebelle | August 1, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

"Readers often see secret motives and hidden agendas in news stories and columns. In most cases, their suspicions are unfounded."

I see. So you're telling readers that Krauthammer, Will, Gerson, Kristol, Hiatt, and occasional error - and lie - fraught Op-Eds such as Feldstein preposterous claim that Obama supports a British - type health care system, or Eric Cantor inane Op-Ed column on Obama czars, or propaganda Op-Eds by AEI cultists, do not have "secret motives and hidden agendas"?

You're probably right. The above-mentioned exhibit blatantly rabid right-wing "opinions" that have turned the Op-Ed page into a cesspool. No mystery there...

Posted by: Gatsby10 | August 1, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

we will se what howard kurtz say about calling hilary clinton the B**** if he will bring it up on sunday i think that shows how wapo is joke. this thing with lou dobbs is so crazy i dont even think about geting the news there they have one person that does the job and it is john roberts on cnn he gives it to u as is and dont let ppl come there and spin the news he stops them and tell them to asnswer the Q, that is littel diff then wapo let anyone put oped no matter true or not wapo should not be about leting the left or the right to put oped.

Posted by: sam30eassoy | August 1, 2009 10:51 AM | Report abuse

About time! Kudos for insisting on the Post's ethical standards to be made public, Mr. Alexander. It's encouraging to see that you're getting things accomplished.

And I hope those journalists who are so forthcoming about possible conflicts of interests are role models for the others. Such disclosures should go without saying and not be something that the readers have to demand from the authors.

Posted by: Gray62 | August 1, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of "Standards and Ethics", will any action be taken against Millbank for suggesting that Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, drink "Mad B*tch" beer, in his latest "mouthpiece Theatre" video with Cilizza?

While the paper later yanked the video, it issued the following statement:

"The video was a satirical piece that lampooned people of all stripes. There was a section of the video that went too far, so we have removed the piece from our website."

Does that mean that calling the Secretary of State a "Mad B*tch" passes for "lampooning" at the Post? Where are the Post apologies for this rude behavior?

Posted by: Gatsby10 | August 1, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse

"In a time of Universal Deceit, telling the 'TRUTH' is a 'REVOLUTIONARY ACT'.

"The words "Standards of Ethics", and Washington Post should never be used in the same "SENTENCE".

Posted by: austininc4 | August 1, 2009 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Folks, would you pls stop yelling here? Nobody reads comments that are so full of upper case rants anyway.

Posted by: Gray62 | August 3, 2009 6:09 AM | Report abuse

Nobody ain't everybody though.

Posted by: Dermitt | August 3, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

You mention transparency. I have not yet seen the full text of the flyer that was sent out. The fact that my newspaper intended to take money from companies it covers on a critical national issue is front page news. I again ask you to publish the full text of the flyer on the front page, or at least offer to e-mail it to interested subscribers.

Posted by: jburnetti | August 5, 2009 7:38 AM | Report abuse

The sacrifices for Allah are a broken spirit. The spirit of their children shall be broken and they shall be destroyed and chaos shall cause them to destroy one another until the last is destroyed and cast into hell. They will be silent in darkness and nothing will be stable, happy and secure. All her world tottered upon its foundations. The brighter future tho, it is full of luxury and romance. The romance of life, a great relief for the troubled and for her anything her heart pleases pleases the heart. The perfect love that Emma knew, always young and attending to her needs so she would never hurt. The greatest of all, the new life awaits. Until then that other hunger could never be satisfied. She felt crazed with bitterness. What can we do?
What shall we do? Do what seems most good, for her reputation is good and she is loved above all things. Her grace were wealth alone. The terror of the future melted and her security is peace and joy for the children. Love beauty and hate coarseness, for life rich and sweet lays before you with fathomless possibilities of a young soul sent to her for her own happiness. The promise kept is the bond never broken and the liberty never ending for love everlasting. There is strength through peace and kind forgiveness that gives life and feeds the soul. The long sweet loving and then the giving up. This is the lot of women. Tis but a day's fighting-a day to go, a day to fight, a day to return to thee. This is the lot of men. To die for her would be an honor as it is an honor to fight for her. The love of a selfless heart where her name was written so long ago to protect and serve and keep sacred her name, for it would always be special. Her dinner had been spoiled and nobody would be coming. Now she could pretend that she had already eaten and that other hunger could be satisfied forever more. She must of known that I would never of allowed her and the children to starve and fall. We all stumble and I enjoy a good rumble. In God We Trust.

Thanks to the ladies at OSS for the old love books and cook books. Until we meet again, be OSS and if you can't be OSS be careful and keep faith in the good Company. Courtesy for the Washington Post is still priceless.

In memory of our Grandmothers who made us grand through gracess. Thanks for the emotional security. Lay it to rest and sweet dreams Princess.

Posted by: Dermitt | August 5, 2009 7:56 AM | Report abuse

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