To: MPR News
From: Mitch Berg,Uppity Peasant
Re: Re-Joyce And Be Glad
Last week, in a similar open letter to the management at the news-blog MinnPost, I asked how they squared the fact that they were accepting sponsorship for their “news” coverage – let alone sponsorship from non-profit issue advocacy groups and the government that journalists are supposed to hold accountable - with professional journalism’s purported ideals and ethics.
These ideals are – we are told – set forth in the “Society of Professional Journalists’ “Code of Ethics“.
Now – in 2011, MPR accepted a grant from the Joyce Foundation supporting the production of a series, “Following the Firearm“. As Joyce notes…:
The Center selected reporters working in the Great Lakes region and awarded them fellowships to enable them to undertake in-depth investigative reporting projects. The fellows also attended workshops to learn from experts in gun crime and gun policy. MPR News reporter Brandt Williams spent four months researching the story. The four-part series looks at the sources of Minneapolis crime guns, sentencing for gun crimes, the impact of gun violence on the African American community, and the challenges surrounding firearm tracing.
Now, as has been noted in this space, the Joyce Foundation is the primary sponsor of gun control groups in the United States. They donate a lot of money to groups like Michael Bloomberg’s “Mayors Against Illegal Guns“, the Violence Policy Center (whose “research” on Second Amendment issues is notable for its strident inaccuracy)…
…and the MinnPost, whose own “journalism” on the subject has been increasingly suspect for the past year or so; the MinnPost would seem to have turned into a PR firm for the “Gun Safety” movement.
But enough about them; let’s talk about MPR.
The SPJ Code of Ethics’ “Accountability” section says that the journalist should…:
- Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. So how does reporting news on a controversial subject that is directly sponsored by a group that is a generous advocate for one side of the story not a real conflict of interest?
- Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility. I’d say getting sponsored by a key pressure group – including having, according to Joyce, a parade of Joyce-approved “experts” paraded before your reporters – qualifies.
- Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity. Seems pretty self-explanatory.
- Disclose unavoidable conflicts. Was there disclosure? Yep, there was, to a point; Joyce’s involvement was noted, although Joyce’s stake in the issue - its funding of gun control groups to the tune of tens of millions of dollars – was, near as I can tell, not. Strikes me as avoidable.
- Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage. How does MPR News’ acceptance of sponsorship from a special interest group not qualify?
Your series aired back in 2011 – and to be fair, it presented factual information without pushing a political point of view especially overtly. But neither did it go out of its way – in my opinion as a news consumer, activist on the subject and one-time reporter – to present much considered dissent from material supporting Joyce’s desired narrative, either.
Which would make for an interesting parlor discussion – not that MPR News is especially interested in parlor discussions with people outside the Journo tribe.
But beyond that? About a month after the Joyce-sponsored series ran on MPR, the MPR News website published a commentary piece by Heather Martens - director and one of very few members of “Protect Minnesota”, a gun-control group. The piece was notable for its complete absence of fact; every single non-numeric assertion made in the “Commentary” was false. Every single one.
And since I can’t imagine MPR News would publish a commentary by, say, a 9/11 Truther, or someone who favors white supremacy on biological grounds at all, much less without some sort of dissenting comment, I thought it was odd that MPR News granted her the bandwidth they did.
“Protect Minnesota” is also sponsored – almost entirely – by the Joyce Foundation, which had underwritten MPR’s series the previous month.
Am I connecting dots that don’t belong connected?
Perhaps. But if MPR had allowed its reporting to be sponsored by the NRA, and then ran an unaccompanied op-ed by Ted Nugent, people would talk, wouldn’t they?
I don’t expect an answer, of course; MPR News doesn’t like engaging people outside the tribe (as I found last year, when one of your executives mis-addressed an email telling an MPR News staffer not to engage with me, to me).
But since MPR News spends such time and effort claiming the moral and ideological journalistic high ground – claims to which I’ve given public credence in the past – it’s worth asking.
Even the SPJ Code of Ethics says so.