Columnist Embarrasses Denver Post, Raises Ethical Questions
Project USA Newsletter, Mar. 8
In a March 3 column attacking Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, Denver Post columnist Cindy Rodriguez included the following:
“[Congressman Tancredo] makes Pat Buchanan look like Pat Schroeder,” said Michael Huttner, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Progressive Network. “If you do a Google search using the terms ‘Tancredo’ and ‘racist,’ you’ll get something like 800 websites.”
Rodriguez, who disagrees with Tancredo on immigration policy, has used the Denver Post to make the Congressman a frequent target. Many of her attacks are attempts, like the one above, to smear Tancredo as a racist-even though, ironically, it is she who openly argues her side of the immigration debate from a racial perspective, while the Congressman does not.
Article VI of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE)’s “Statement of Principles” reads, “Journalists should respect the rights of people involved in the news, observe the common standards of decency and stand accountable to the public for the fairness and accuracy of their news reports.”
Since the March 3 Rodriguez column grossly violated this standard of decency, ProjectUSA sent an email query to each member of the ethics committee of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) asking whether they believed the use of the above paragraph by an opinion columnist, obviously intended to leave the impression with a reader that Congressman Tancredo is somehow connected to racists, violated ethical and professional standards.
We noted in our query that while it’s true that a Google search using the terms ‘Tancredo’ and ‘racist’ will yield 800 hits, if you search ‘Rodriguez’ and ‘racist,’ you’ll get 14,900 hits — over 18 times as many as ‘Tancredo’ produces. ‘Bush’ and ‘racist,’ incidentally, will return 304,000 hits, and even ‘Jesus’ and ‘racist’ will give you 129,000 hits!
Observing that “the Code of Ethics published by the Society of Professional Journalists forbids ‘deliberate distortion’ and warns against using quotes that misrepresent,” we asked the ethics committee, “does this code apply to columnists in some sense, too, or does it apply only to reporters?”
We received a number of responses from ethics committee members, all of whom agreed the use of the quote was questionable at best even for an opinion piece. One committee member wrote:
“I believe your implications are on target, that this appears to violate fundamental senses of journalistic decency and uses a cheap trick (propaganda or common sense violation?) to sway a gullible readership.”
“I agree entirely with the logic of your analysis. I have no idea why an editor didn’t catch this abuse of web searches…What you describe seems to me to extend far beyond what any reasonable person would judge to be justifiable.”
Given the Post’s history of support for record-breaking mass immigration, it is no surprise that its editors would permit Rodriguez to use the paper to attack a local Congressman who has become the nation’s leading champion of a more moderate immigration policy.
However, we agree with the members of the SPJ ethics committee who responded to our query that the paragraph cited above crosses the line of professional and ethical standards.
The Post editors deserve censure for allowing this hurtful, unfair, and irresponsible smear to appear in the paper, and Congressman Tancredo deserves a public apology.
+== TAKE POSITIVE ACTION ==+
If the Denver Post is going to employ someone like Cindy Rodriguez, the editors of the paper need to remain constantly vigilant, whatever their own biases, against allowing her racial obsessions and personal hatreds to embarrass the paper and sully its reputation.
Here’s what you can do: call the Denver Post, ask for the newsroom, and politely tell the person who answers (or leave a message) what you think of a paper that would allow one of its columnists to use the results of a Google search to smear a Congressman with the truly serious charge of racism.
+== QUOTE OF THE WEEK ==+
“Let’s just put it this way: The dislike of Tancredo outside his district is a nationwide phenomenon.”
Cindy Rodriguez, Denver Post columnist
[Actually, this statement is true only in Cindy’s head, if the result of the poll on our home page is any indication.]