UPDATE 2/4/19: And now Crain’s is reporting that the Sun-Times defied a court order not to print what was in the affidavit. The Sun-Times got the affidavit, which was supposed to be confidential, because it was accidentally posted on a public website. The Sun-Times may have had the legal right to do so, but why is that appropriate when publication would presumably endanger the rest of the investigation? In addition, our objections below about dribbling out the contents still stand.
I got a note Friday from Joe Mathewson, who teaches law and ethics at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. He’s a regular Wirepoints reader and formerly covered the Supreme Court for the Wall Street Journal.
He said he assigned his class to consider whether the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics applies to the questions we raised about the Chicago Sun-Times and the explosive Solis affidavit, which only the Sun-Times has. See our article on that linked here.
As we described, the Sun-Times has been withholding and dribbling out the contents of the affidavit instead of releasing the whole thing. Because early voting in Chicago’s election began last Tuesday, I think that’s improper. Much of the information withheld and later dribbled out clearly might be considered material by many voters, who have cast their ballots without that information.
Joe did not offer an answer to the question. He said it’s a rather novel issue because these matters usually pertain to improper release of information, but this is about failure to release. Nor do I know whether journalism gurus would, technically, think the code applies and whether it is being violated respecting the withholding of information itself.
However, I see that the Code also says journalists should “Explain ethical choices and processes to audiences. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content.” I don’t think the Sun-Times has done that. I suspect their answer would be “We’re milking this for all we can,” but they’d rather not say that.
I also see that the Code says journalists should “Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.” Shouldn’t the regular media be asking the same questions we are?
–Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.