Contacts: Ray Marcano, SPJ president, 937/225-2323 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Gary Hill, SPJ Ethics Committee co-chairman, 651/642-4437 or email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS - Charges of alcohol violations by President Bush's daughters are not merely a "family matter," as a White House spokesman said, but legitimate news that needs to be covered in a careful, compassionate way, leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists said today.
The events are news because they involve public figures, public officials and matters of legitimate public interest - such as teen-age drinking, on which the president's opinion might make a difference, SPJ leaders said. But they said the events should be placed in the proper perspective and not sensationalized as the story develops.
"If we failed to report these incidents the public would quite rightly accuse us of covering for the Bush family," said Gary Hill, SPJ Ethics Committee co-chairman and director of investigations and special segments for KSTP-TV News in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn. "But as these events continue to unfold, journalists should continue to place these events in the proper context. These are not serious crimes. The apparent offenders are young. These events do not mean journalists should now have a field day with all aspects of the Bush family's private lives."
SPJ President Ray Marcano, an assistant managing editor at the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, said, "This is clearly a news story that demands coverage and should be pursued. Some are trying to shift the debate to whether journalists should cover the story, and the answer is clearly yes. Anytime a president's daughter is accused of breaking the law, the public wants to know if she gets equal justice or special treatment. But the coverage needs to be driven by such concerns, not the celebrity factor."
SPJ urges all journalists to follow its Code of Ethics, in this case particularly the principle of minimizing harm, which says, "Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect," and that journalists should "show good taste and avoid pandering to lurid curiosity."