Journalism veterans and media ethicists are criticizing Fox News and commentator Jim Pinkerton for failing to disclose that Pinkerton was being paid to partner with Michele Bachmann on her book while regularly speaking about the presidential campaign on Fox.
Among the critics is Fox News contributor Marvin Kalb.
“I believe in transparency and if Jim Pinkerton was talking about [Bachmann's] campaign on Fox News as a Fox News contributor it should have been pointed out to viewers that he was part of this campaign,” said Kalb, former host of NBC's Meet the Press and a 30-year television news veteran. “I don't understand why this had to be a secret connection.”
The reaction follows the disclosure -- first reported by Politico's Ben Smith -- that Pinkerton spent June, July and August 2011 as a paid collaborator on a book with Bachmann. Pinkerton did not tell Fox viewers about his role in the book while regularly appearing on Fox News Watch.
Pinkerton told Media Matters that his Fox News “superiors” knew of his secret arrangement and approved of it. He declined to name the superiors.
Pinkerton also said he had “zero regrets” about keeping his part in the book secret from Fox viewers, saying he always disclosed that his wife, a former Bachmann campaign chief of staff, was working for Bachmann.
David Zurawik, media critic for The Baltimore Sun, finds hypocrisy in Pinkerton being secretive while appearing on Fox News Watch, a media criticism program.
“All the dishonesty is multiplied by him doing this on a media review show,” Zurawik said. “First of all, a media review show is the last place a guy who tries to shade his conflicts of interest this way and keep necessary information from viewers should be. And if Fox News knew, it tells you what management there thinks of telling the truth on such shows.”
He later stated: “If Fox knew and did allow this, it gives lie to all of their P.R. about how unfair it is to call them biased. They can trot Bret Baier out all they want, but if they allow this kind of dishonest behavior, they are not an honest news operation that citizens should trust.”
Bill Kovach, founder of the Committee of Concerned Journalists and former New York Times Washington, D.C., bureau chief, called the actions “deceitful.”
“Both Pinkerton and Fox withheld deeply relevant information from their audience,” he said in an email. “It was deceitful. Such self-interested information undermines any claim either to journalism, the interest of their viewers as citizens or the larger public interest.”
Tom Fiedler, former Miami Herald editor and currently dean of the College of Communication at Boston University, went one step further.
“I would like to know who Pinkerton's 'superiors' are at Fox who were aware of this conflict and were apparently untroubled by his failure to disclose it to the Fox audience,” Fiedler said. “They should be fired.”
Fox News has yet to respond to requests for comment.
“Fox News has failed Journalism Ethics 101,” said Alex S. Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. “This is a transparent breach of the most fundamental journalism ethics. I think it is outrageous that they would have allowed this.”
Pam Fine, a former managing editor of The Indianapolis Star and currently a journalism professor at the University of Kansas, also commented on the transparency problem.
“My presumption is that Fox viewers would want to know whether commentators have a financial or other significant relationship with any candidate and that the right thing for the commentator to do is disclose,” Fine said via email.
Former National Public Radio Ombudsman Alicia Shepard, also a veteran journalist and author, stated:
“I've always liked Jim Pinkerton, but I disagree with him. This is the age of transparency. We can't pick and choose what we want to disclose and what we think we should disclose. As journalists and/or commentators, we owe it to our audience to let them know about any conflicts of interest. You can't work on a book and not have a conflict of interest.”
For Marty Steffens, business journalism professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and former San Francisco Examiner editor, the lack of openness is “short-sighted.”
“Networks have always been very, very good about disclosing,” she said. “So the hiding is short-sighted and it gives fodder to people who say Fox has an agenda.”