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Over the past week we have heard stories of Wisconsin newspapers disciplining employees for signing petitions to recall Scott Walker. The common excuse for for the newspaper to discipline their employees is that it is a violation of ethical standards. Gannett newspapers posted this when discussing the supposed ethical breach:

We will remain free of outside interests, investments or business relationships that may compromise the credibility of our news report.

We will maintain an impartial, arm’s length relationship with anyone seeking to influence the news.

We will avoid potential conflicts of interest and eliminate inappropriate influence on content. [...]

A Gannett journalist can’t uphold these principles, and at the same time post a candidate’s sign in the yard, or sign a candidate’s nomination papers, or join a campaign rally, or sign a petition advocating a recall election.

How is signing a recall petition different from voting? The only unethical behavior I see here is on the part of the employer. Signing a recall petition, putting up a yard sign, signing a candidate's nomination papers or joining a campaign rally are not ethical breaches and they are not even mentioned in the code of ethics above. It is about being a citizen of the United States of America and participating in democracy. I find it shameful that Wisconsin newspapers are hiding behind an ethical wall when what they did was unethical in the first place:
"We were surprised and disappointed," editor John Smalley said of finding the staff members' names by searching a database of signatures at iverifytherecall.com. "We apologize to our readers for the lapse in judgment by several staff members.
First off, the General Accountability Board should have never released the recall signatures. They should have been considered the same as a vote is considered, private. Second, why is an employer searching this database, set up by an outside entity no less, for employees who signed the petition? Talk about a breach of ethics. Third, as one of your readers, I would like an apology for your lack of judgment in searching the recall petitions for your employee's names.

What is to stop an employer with right-wing leanings to now go through the recall petitions and fire anyone who signed the petition? Wisconsin is an "At-Will" state so an employer can fire anyone for anything. That is my greatest fear about the release of the petitions and verify the recall putting them online. That someone will retaliate against people who signed the petition. They could do this by firing people, harassing them, disciplining them—all for participating in democracy.

This is not just about what these newpapers did. No employer should be able to dictate to an employee what they do on their off time. No employer should be digging around in a recall petition to see which employees signed a petition and which ones did not. If recall petitions are fair game then what is next? Telling us who to vote for? Telling us we cannot vote?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Gannett's "Investigative team" will be interesting (7+ / 0-)

    How much do you want to bet democrats will be investigated to death and good old Scotty boy will get a pass?

    The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it. G.B. Shaw

    by baghavadgita on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 11:20:43 AM PDT

  •  Whow! (8+ / 0-)

    What else can employers demand of their workers?  It's becoming as if there's nothing they will not infringe upon and every aspect  of life belongs to them. From forced arbitration agreements, Facebook passwords, Credit history, etc.

    And now this?

    Be the change you want to see in the world. -Gandhi

    by DRo on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 11:37:29 AM PDT

    •  and the kicker (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ozsea1, DRo, Sark Svemes, luckylizard, Puddytat

      is that it's getting worse, and the stupid idiots who keep voting for these corrupt politicians just don't get it.  You've got the anti-union people saying that there are laws in place to protect workers, and then you've got crap like this happening.  I just cannot believe the amount of stupid that is out there today.  Unreal.

  •  Wrong, wrong, and wrong. (11+ / 0-)

    1. Media organizations which strive to be perceived as objective routinely do and should forbid public partisan acts by their journalists and representatives.  This is completely standard. Here's the NYT's policy, in part:

    89. Journalists do not take part in politics. While staff members are entitled to vote and to register in party primaries, they must do nothing that might raise questions about their professional neutrality or that of our news operations. In particular, they may not campaign for, demonstrate for, or endorse candidates, ballot causes or efforts to enact legislation. They may not wear campaign buttons or themselves display any other insignia of partisan politics.
    90. Staff members may not themselves give money to any political candidate or election cause or raise money for one. Given the ease of Internet access to public records of campaign contributions, any political giving by a staff member would risk feeding a false impression that we are taking sides.
    91. No staff member may seek public office anywhere. Seeking or serving in public office violates the professional detachment expected of a journalist. Active participation by one of our staff can sow a suspicion of favoritism in political coverage.
    92. Staff members may not march or rally in support of public causes or movements or sign advertisements or petitions taking a position on public issues. They may not lend their names to campaigns, benefit dinners or similar events if doing so might reasonably raise doubts about their ability or their newsroom's ability to remain neutral in covering the news. Neighbors and other outsiders commonly see us as representatives of our institution.
    2. When it comes to folks signing petitions to put anti-gay ballot propositions on the ballot, folks here are all about disclosure.  We should allow our ox to be gored as well.
    •  What an employee does... (8+ / 0-)

      ...off the clock is their business. Not the employers.

      I do not care if you are a journalist or a welder - what you do on your own time is your business.

      "Republicans only care about the rich" - My late Father (-8.25, -7.85)

      by Mark E Andersen on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 11:48:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Adam (5+ / 0-)

      How is signing a recall petition different than voting?  In both cases you are performing a political act which shows political bias right?

      Is it that signing the petition is a more public act and therefore can be more easily construed as showing bias?

      Fascism: The conservative notion that killing people makes them work harder

      by madtowntj on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 11:50:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Exactly (5+ / 0-)

        One is public, the other is private.  Private acts don't call into question your objectivity as a reporter.

        •  That makes some sense (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Sark Svemes, 3goldens

          as far as it goes.

          But, I would much rather know the political leanings of a reporter while reading their stuff than not.  To me it makes it easier for a reporter to slant their stuff if you don't know their political leanings.  

          I understand it is a double edged sword in that if we know the political leanings of a reporter they may be accused of slanting their stuff because of their political leanings, but I would argue that reporters are accused of that anyway.

          To me if the paper wants to have a rule that news stories must remain as neutral as possible, that would be ok, but it seems rules making reporters avoid public displays of politics don't really do anything except give the appearance of neutrality, but they don't really do anything to insure neutrality.

          Fascism: The conservative notion that killing people makes them work harder

          by madtowntj on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 12:08:57 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  You now have exactly two choices: (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          rosarugosa

          1 - Come out just as strongly against all journalists who dare to actually vote in primaries in closed primary states (where it must become a matter of public record which party you're aligning yourself with in order to participate).

          or

          2 - Admit that you're full of crap when you claim that a journalist isn't allowed to exercise the right of a basic voter when doing so can't be done without your preferences being publicly discoverable.

          So, which will you pick?  You have no way to escape from the fact that you MUST pick one of these two or be a total hypocrite.

          •  Fine. I choose #1. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            VClib

            That's easy enough.

            •  Don't you see selecting option #1 (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              3goldens, rosarugosa

              as totally undemocratic?

              Doesn't that basically allow a business to take away one of the most important fundamental rights of a citizen of this country?  I don't see how that is a good option.

              Fascism: The conservative notion that killing people makes them work harder

              by madtowntj on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 12:38:14 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  It happens all the time (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                madtowntj, VClib, happy camper

                If I were the secretary to the executive director of the SEIU, and in my spare time showed up at Tea Party rallies, denounced unions and made campaign contributions to Republicans, should I still have a job?

                •  The thing is... (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  3goldens

                  ...that is not going to happen. Now a Republican signing a recall Walker petition. Can happen and did happen.

                  Anyone can throw an outragous example out there and say this is why there needs to be a rule; however, that does not justify the rule.

                  "Republicans only care about the rich" - My late Father (-8.25, -7.85)

                  by Mark E Andersen on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 12:53:22 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                •  I agree it happens all the time (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Mark E Andersen, 3goldens, rosarugosa

                  But, should it happen?  

                  Why shouldn't you still have a job?  Is what the person said true?

                  If someone says something about me that isn't true, I have to prove that it wasn't true and that it caused some damage to me before I can receive any damages from that person right?

                  Why should someone get fired for speaking the truth?  Sure the company might not like it and maybe it will cause the company damage to their reputation and to lose money, but was it true?  How can speaking the truth be wrong?

                  In the case above as long as the person didn't lie while denouncing unions and if the person was doing a good job then yeah they should be free to espouse their political view.  The company might not like it, but so what?  As long as the person doesn't espouse those views while doing their job.

                  If the person lied, then the company can take them to court, prove it, and then fire them.  

                  This is basically the type of protection unionized workers have right?  Some sort of due process to stop companies from simply getting rid of people without cause.

                  Fascism: The conservative notion that killing people makes them work harder

                  by madtowntj on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 01:11:19 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                •  Straw object. (0+ / 0-)

                  employee taking a position directly opposed to employer in a specific context.

                  Reporters are not taking a position contrary o their employer's political stance when covering news.

                  Because for your argument to make any sense, the news org would have o have a position.

                  Thump! Bang. Whack-boing. It's dub!

                  by dadadata on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 04:02:11 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  But the point is ... (0+ / 0-)

                    .... the news organization doesn't take any position in its news reporting.

                    •  Really? (0+ / 0-)

                      Fox News does, so does the Wall Street Journal. Here where I live the Wisconsin State Journal has been known to take the Republican side of every story while the Capitol Times claims it is the "Progressive Voice." Every news organization out there has a bias and more often than not it is a corporate bias which tends to lean to the right.

                      Newspapers and other media are so afraid of being accused of Liberal bias that they make up rules like this to prove how unbiased they are when if fact they are quite biased...the other direction.

                      "Republicans only care about the rich" - My late Father (-8.25, -7.85)

                      by Mark E Andersen on Sat Mar 31, 2012 at 01:52:15 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Each organization can set its own policy (0+ / 0-)

                        Here's the WSJ's:

                        Many companies, for a variety of reasons, participate in the partisan political process at various levels of government. As a publisher, Dow Jones has a different tradition. Dow Jones does not contribute, directly or indirectly, to political campaigns or to political parties or groups seeking to raise money for political campaigns or parties, and Dow Jones does not and will not reimburse any employee for any political contribution made by an employee.

                        All news personnel and members of senior management with any responsibility for news should refrain from partisan political activity. Partisan political activity includes passing out buttons, posting partisan comments on social-networking sites, blogging, soliciting campaign contributions, hosting a fundraiser for a partisan candidate, as well as making a financial contribution to a candidate’s campaign. While these restrictions do not expressly apply to an employee’s spouse, significant other, or family members, all news personnel and members of senior management with any responsibility for news should avoid the appearance of bias....

            •  Sorry. Simply don't agree. (0+ / 0-)

              any recall petition is merely exercising a state constitutional right.

              As for the NYT they may want to do the Caesars wife thing, but many journalists don't work for outfits like that and they get paid as if they're janitors.

              Thump! Bang. Whack-boing. It's dub!

              by dadadata on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 03:54:55 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  Thank you for being honest enough (0+ / 0-)

              to actually admit that your position is only holdable by people who despise democracy enough to actually think disenfranchisement is a valid condition of employment.  At least you admit to your crackpottery like that, making it far less likely anyone would be fooled into thinking you're being reasonable here.

              •  It's wholly reasonable ... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                VClib

                ... that certain jobs are sensitive enough as to justify restrictions on public political activity.    I think the primary question is a very close call, and no media organization I know of actually makes such a requirement.

                •  They don't make the requirement because (0+ / 0-)

                  it's an unreasonable one.  But the "publicness" of voting in a primary is exactly the same as the "publicness" of signing a recall petition.  They are only "public" in the sense that the public records are available for them unlike for your other sorts of voting actions.  That's a very passive sort of "publicness".  It's not as if recall signers were trying to be public.  They had no choice according to the rules of the GAB.  This is nothing like the public politicking that such policies are usually talking about.

    •  these policies are complete nonsense (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mark E Andersen, DRo

      Journalists, editors, and all back office newspaper staff should have the same rights as every other citizen.  

      This includes voting, signing recall petitions, signing candidate petitions, participating in caucuses, giving donations to candidates, giving donations to PACs, appearing at campaign events, endorsing, etc.

      To insist that all newspaper employees be politically celibate is naive as hell.  I laugh when I hear people use the word "objectivity".

    •  Focus your concern on Gannett (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      flycaster
      How is signing a recall petition different from voting? The only unethical behavior I see here is on the part of the employer. Signing a recall petition, putting up a yard sign, signing a candidate's nomination papers or joining a campaign rally are not ethical breaches and they are not even mentioned in the code of ethics above.
      While citing the NYT's policy provides context for your arguement, it does not validate it.

      I need to examine Gannett's policy in particular. Then I will decide the merits.

      Your ongoing concern is noted.

      "What have you done for me, lately?" ~ Lady Liberty

      by ozsea1 on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 12:06:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  From the publisher (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        VClib, ozsea1

        A-1:

        The principle at stake is our core belief that journalists must make every effort to avoid behavior that could raise doubts about their journalistic neutrality. Political activity is foremost....

        A number of the journalists told us they did not consider signing the petition a political act. They equated it to casting a ballot in an election, something they have every right to do. But we see a distinction.

        Yes, all citizens, including journalists, have a right to hold their own opinions about political issues and to share those opinions with their colleagues, friends or family. Personal opinions are part of human nature. However, journalists who work in a professional news organization must hold themselves to a higher public standard. That is, journalists have a first responsibility to be trusted. They have a first responsibility to protect the credibility of the news they are covering for their readers and their community. They have a first responsibility to protect your trust in the news organization for which they work.

        All Gannett journalists are trained on and expected to follow the company's principles of ethical conduct. The 32 principles include these six that are directly relevant to the recall petition issue:

        » We will remain free of outside interests, investments or business relationships that may compromise the credibility of our news report.

        » We will maintain an impartial, arm's length relationship with anyone seeking to influence the news.

        » We will avoid potential conflicts of interest and eliminate inappropriate influence on content.

        » We will take responsibility for our decisions and consider the possible consequences of our actions.

        » We will be conscientious in observing these principles.

        » We will always try to do the right thing.

        A Gannett journalist cannot uphold these principles and at the same time post a candidate's sign in the yard, or sign a candidate's nomination papers, or join a campaign rally, or sign a petition advocating a recall election.

        •  What is pathetic (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          3goldens

          is that the policy is such unenforcable garbage.  And you, as a lawyer, should recognize this.  

          Who believes that reporters are neutral?  It's simply not an achievable state for a human.

          I'd much rather see disclosures, like Kos did when he disclosed his efforts on behalf of Dean, than see employers discipline employees for political activity.  And newspapers already provide such disclosures when they publish articles [such as, this person is the exec dir of such-and-such organization].

          Further, the requirement for this unachievable neutrality is not enforced evenhandedly.  Do you think that the publisher in question has bothered to search databases for conservative activities on the part of its employees?

          The banks have a stranglehold on the political process. Mike Whitney

          by dfarrah on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 01:16:19 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Classic CYA on the publisher's part (0+ / 0-)

          however, it is what it is. Gannett appears to hold the high ground.

          Time will tell. Thanks for the link, Adam.

          "What have you done for me, lately?" ~ Lady Liberty

          by ozsea1 on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 02:23:24 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Signing a recall petition is not a partisan act (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      fuzzyguy, 3goldens, rosarugosa

      Recalls are legally targeted at the incumbent, not their party.

    •  Was going to post the same, on both points (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      campionrules, VClib

      Particularly w/re disclosure of the identities of the Prop 8 backers, we were all for it at the time, insisting that they were entitled to their (bigoted) opinions, but had to be willing to hold those opinions up to public scrutiny.  The same thing ought properly to apply here.

    •  And, oh, I like (0+ / 0-)

      "strive to be perceived as objective."

      Thump! Bang. Whack-boing. It's dub!

      by dadadata on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 03:57:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Question (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mark E Andersen

      If newspapers are all pearl clutchy and fainting couch needing regarding what they see as political side-taking, why do they think political endorsements (done by all newspapers) is just fine?  Clearly, endorsements are far more political than merely signing petitions.

      Looks to me like a case of rules being applied only to "the little people".

      There already is class warfare in America. Unfortunately, the rich are winning.

      by Puddytat on Sat Mar 31, 2012 at 09:50:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Apparently they've had a 'meeting of the minds' (3+ / 0-)
    Is it not an ethics violation, too, to claim authorship of something you didn’t write? Compare this column “written by Richard Roesgen,” executive editor of the Fond du Lac Reporter, with this column by Green Bay Press-Gazette publisher Kevin Corrado and this one from Appleton Post-Crescent publisher Genia Lovett. Many of the passages are identical.
    http://jimromenesko.com/...

    Kevin Corrado says:

    But the fact that any of Gannett Wisconsin Media's 223 news employees did sign the petition is disheartening. It has caused us to examine how this could have happened, how we will address it and how we will prevent it from happening again. Most important is informing our readers and being as open as possible.

    We now are in the process of taking disciplinary measures and reviewing supplemental ethics training for all news employees.

    http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/...

    Richard Roesgen says:

    But the fact that any of Gannett Wisconsin Media’s 223 news employees did sign the petitions is disheartening. It has caused us to examine how this could have happened, how we will address it and how we will prevent it from happening again.
    http://www.fdlreporter.com/...

    Genia Lovett says:

    The fact that any of our 223 Wisconsin news employees signed the petition is disheartening. It has caused us to examine deeply how this happened, how we will address it and how we will prevent future breaches.
    http://www.postcrescent.com/...

    from a bright young conservative: “I’m watching my first GOP debate…and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!”

    by Catte Nappe on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 11:44:44 AM PDT

  •  Coercion regarding the franchise (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ozsea1, flycaster, 3goldens, rosarugosa

    Would be a class I felony in Wisconsin (that's up to 18 months in prison plus up to 24 months' probation).

    Seeking to influence employees to not sign a recall when they want to is quite possibly something of value to the incumbent and therefore a violation of §12.07(4). The penalty for that is a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 6 months in prison.

    Perhaps for their first crime they shouldn't be writing all about it, printing that out a few hundred thousand times and delivering the evidence to people around the state.

  •  The 4th estate (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    3goldens

    is the press and it is slowly dying in print form. I find it profoundly stupid to try to limit a citizen's right to recall a POS politician. It is in effect an attempt to limit a persons right to vote. The press are allowed to vote for whom they choose. They are allowed to endorse a candidate. To attempt to limit the ability of a person to choose wether or not they wish to recall an elected official, when that official represents that person is a violation of the spirit and intent of the current law. Gannet is pleading for someone to sue them.  

    •  flycaster - the Internet has killed the newspaper (0+ / 0-)

      business. There is a massive oversupply of print reporters and every other skill associated with the newspaper business. If people don't like the rules at Gannett, which are similar though out the MSM, they can leave. There are ten other people who would be happy to take the job and follow the Gannett policies.

      "let's talk about that"

      by VClib on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 12:35:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Oh, and we want your FaceBook password, too. /nt (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GeoffT, dfarrah, 3goldens

    Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
    I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
    —Spike Milligan

    by polecat on Fri Mar 30, 2012 at 12:35:00 PM PDT

  •  I can't imagine what will happen (0+ / 0-)

    in Wisconsin if Walker wins the recall. Facist state anyone.

  •  I think it was ok to release the signatures, but (0+ / 0-)

    not allow anyone to make a searchable database. I don't know how you could prohibit the database, though. I also wonder about the paper taking such an obvious anti-recall stance, as if that is not partisan.

  •  I can see (0+ / 0-)

    their logic.

    If I am an engineer designing widgets for ABC Industries, my political leanings will be unlikely to prejudice the customers against the company's product.

    If I am a reporter covering politics, that may not be the case. Perceived neutrality helps sell papers.

    "A lie is not the other side of a story; it's just a lie."

    by happy camper on Sat Mar 31, 2012 at 09:27:33 AM PDT

  •  Journalism school prof... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    happy camper

    One of my journalism school profs told us kids that he never voted (or even registered to vote) while working as a reporter/editor as a way of demonstrating his journalistic non-partisanship.

    Some of us thought this rather extreme, but it goes to show you the line of thought common in the business.  

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