From the Editor’s Desk
By Howard Schwach
When I talk about "journalistic ethics," to people, they often laugh. They say that the term journalistic ethics is an oxymoron such as "military music" or "military justice."
Despite that, there are some things that a journalist, particularly a newspaper editor should not do.
Paramount on that list is actively working for a candidate as campaign manager or worker.
How can anything that an editor writes, or anything that he or she puts in the paper, for that matter, be believed when that editor is an advocate for one candidate or another?
A case in point is John McLoughlin, the editor of The Forum, a Howard Beach-Ozone Park paper.
On Labor Day, John walked in the Broad Channel Mardi Gras Parade, wearing a "Vote For Ariola" T-shirt. He accompanied the candidate and handed out her literature along the way. He is reportedly her campaign manager or, at the least, her media advisor.
In the paper that came out right after the primary, John ran a front page that consisted of two pictures. The picture of Ariola was studio-shot while the photo of her opponent, Joe Addabbo, was less than flattering. It clearly was not the campaign photo that they must have stored in their computer memory.
A week later, the Forum ran a front-page story about Ariola’s complaint to the DEP about dumping raw sewage into the bay. It had McLouglin’s byline on the story, but it was the same exact story that Ariola submitted to this paper as a press release.
Did John write it? Probably. As her campaign manager, he probably writes all of her material.
Inside, there was a short blind item (without any byline) about Addabbo. Like the photo, it was not flattering.
"Getting elected by intimidating the public is the modus operandi of Joe Addabbo," the article started and then went on to tell how bad Joe is.
The following week, John’s blind item praised Ariola for her statements at a forum that pitted her against Addabbo. "Joann took this debate hands down," The Forum said. Then, it added, "Joe gave packaged answers (we thought we heard some of them four years ago) to most of the questions.
I was not at the debate, so I do not know who won.
How can you trust the Forum to tell the truth about the debate or anything else dealing with the election when the editor is an advocate for one of the candidates.
Newspapers endorse candidates all the time. Newspapers write negative and positive stories about candidates all the time.
That is necessary for the newspaper to fulfill one of its highest mandates – to inform the public about the candidates and about the issues involved in a political campaign.
To do that, newspapers must be trusted. The public must know that what the paper writes in its news stories and in the material that it publishes that is not attributed to any person is factual and without malice.
Readers of the Forum can no longer do that.
McLoughlin is an open and outspoken advocate for Ariola. He admits it proudly.
How can anything positive he writes about Ariola be trusted?
How can anything negative he writes about Addabbo or any other of the candidates be trusted?
There are journalistic ethics, and they are not personified by The Forum or by John McLoughlin.
Ultimately, the responsibility for this issue lies with the paper’s publisher, Patricia Adams. She is an Ariola supporter herself and she is the one who oversees the editorial direction of the paper. She should know, however, that what is going on with her paper violates those ethics that she editorialized so strongly about a few months ago when her paper was attacked for her series of stories about Al Stabile and his problems. The recent direction the paper is taking calls even those important stories into question.
That is what happens when journalistic ethics are abandoned.
Everything is called into question. That is bad for all journalists and all weekly newspapers. Adams should take action to do something about her editor’s excesses. She can do no less.