Managing Editor's Note: What follows is an open letter from NewsBusters publisher Brent Bozell to Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli about the controversial [now defunct] e-mail listserv JournoList, founded and operated by the Post's Ezra Klein.
The JournoList scandal is getting worse every day and The Washington Post is at the center of it. Blogger Ezra Klein ran the operation and at least three other staffers were members. (Blogger Greg Sargent claims he wasn't a member after he joined the Post.) In addition, at least one member of Slate and two from Newsweek, also owned by Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, were members.
The almost constant revelations of political activism and journalistic conspiracy raise an enormous number of questions about Post policies, professionalism and ethics. As a conservative, and therefore a member of the movement JournoListers sought to demonize, I feel Post readers are owed full disclosure.
Any understanding of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics makes clear this list and the Post's involvement violate a number of ethical guidelines. In fact, much of the code seems to have been ignored. Here are just a few examples from the code.
- "Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting,"
- "Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public's business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection,"
- "Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived,"
- "Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests [emphasis added] and resist their pressure to influence news coverage."
There is only one way for the Post to move forward from this fiasco - through transparency. You need to be forthright about the Post's failings and give readers enough information so that we know just how serious this really was and what can be done to restore your paper's credibility.
As Post Ombudsman Andy Alexander said recently about your "Top Secret Government" series: "Over the years, The Post has revealed classified information when it feels disclosure is in the public interest." It is time for the Post to live by the expectations it sets for others. Here is a list of 20 questions, we would like the Post, Klein or both to address:
1) How many Washington Post staffers were part of JournoList and, if there are any currently unnamed, who are they?
2) Will the Post be transparent and either release or order its staffers to release their contributions to the list?
3) Will the Post release the names and affiliations of all those on the list or have its staffers do so?
4) Did the Post know about JournoList when Klein was hired and that it was a "center to left" group? If yes, what does that say about the Post's claims of neutrality?
5) Did actions on JournoList violate the Post's ethical guidelines?
6) Has the Post revised or added any ethical guidelines as a result of this scandal?
7) Will the Post permit staffers to belong to or operate such lists in the future?
8) Does the Post often embrace "off the record" e-mail conversations with hundreds of people at a time?
9) Was Klein's supervisor(s) on the list and were they monitoring what went on?
10) Has the Post examined the possibility that JournoList impacted Post news coverage?
11) How much did the Post look into JournoList before hiring Klein?
12) Were Klein and the other Post members of the list using it and posting to it on company time? If not, when were they doing so?
13) Did Klein and the other Post members write to the list using company equipment and offices?
14) Was Klein aware that some were using the list to boost the Obama campaign, such as adviser Jared Bernstein?
15) Did Klein attempt to enforce a rule against campaigning and, if so, how?
16) Did Klein post written guidelines for all members of the list? If so, what were those guidelines?
17) Klein had said on The American Prospect on March 17, 2009: "There are no government or campaign employees on the list." That has been proven false. How did he try to monitor this issue? Were there other members of the Obama campaign and administration on the list?
18) Did Klein ban anyone from the list?
19) Has Klein or any other Post staffer (other than Dave Weigel) offered to resign because of their contributions to the list?
20) When Klein shut down the list, did he delete the list? If not, will the Post order him to release it so that readers may decide for themselves?
I eagerly await your response.
L. Brent Bozell
Founder and President
Media Research Center