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Journalistic ethics, hah hah, &c.

Only child Ted Koppel said a few things this weekend that are garnering attention about the way the nation's news collectors collect their news. Of course, "objectivity" has always been the subjective notion of fiftysomething white males, of which yours truly is indeed one. But I have to confess I like the new partisan environment more than the old fraudulently "objective" one, and not only because it makes us more like Paris, the American heaven.

The "ethics" of journalism has always been mostly for hypocrites, the ironic method by which they bully less certain, younger scribes. Journalistic ethics are taught largely by fiftysomething white males who can no longer break stories (if they ever could) nor practice their trade anymore to useful full employment.

There was nothing "ethical" about the way Woodstein broke the Watergate cover-up story, the most important story in American journalism in our lifetimes. Ben Bradlee was often invited to Fred Friendly's ethics seminars, but neither of them had much of a heart and less of a stomach for journalistic ethics in truth, and both were only too glad to produce segments that were alternately wildly slanted, abundantly imaginative, and begotten by illicit means. In days of old, ethics were no part of newsrooms at all: you were encouraged to get the story, even if it meant ripping books from the library, stealing from your crosstown scribe, staking out the mayor's daughter's boyfriend, &c.

Locally, some of the least ethical people in journalism are some of the most noted ethical sermonizers. All else in journalism has failed for them, so finger-wagging is their would-be ticket to remaining relevant. These cannot quit their day jobs, so they grow bitter and try to make younger, fresher voices play by rules they never bothered with themselves. But really, if you go a generation beyond the hacks, you find a whole ruin-like layer of even older hacks saying things like, "If you're not sued once in a while, you're not in business," and "A writer is always selling someone out." What is mostly missing from today's media mix is the oldest Hearstian recipe for successful journalism of all: catch others, but don't get caught yourself.