Sean Hannity's plan to do his show Thursday night from a Tea Party event in Cincinnati that will charge admission is raising ethical worries among several news and broadcast veterans.
The idea that a news show that covers the Tea Party issue, among others, would seek to raise money for the event during a production of the show has some in the industry crying foul.
“Unequivocally, from our standpoint, this is wrong,” declared Kevin Smith, president of the Society of Professional Journalists. “For a news organization to charge people for access, then take that money and roll it over to a political action group that they cover quite a bit.”
Smith added, “It has gotten to the point where you cannot delineate between Fox News and the Tea Party movement - it is incestuous. There is a clear conflict of interest here.”
Alicia Shepard, ombudsman for National Public Radio, also found fault with the plan. “If the job of a news organization is to present the facts in an unbiased way and if Fox is charging people to raise money for a political cause, then they are undermining their mission to be fair and balanced,” she said. “Is Sean Hannity's mission to be fair and balanced or to be a pundit with a political bent? It is clearly new territory.”
Fox News did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Frank Sesno, who spent 21 years at CNN in Washington and now serves as director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, said: “It violates virtually every rule of every ethical guideline that journalism covers. The idea that you would support a [political] movement and ask your audience to pay for it.”
Bob Steele, one of the premiere media ethics experts at The Poynter Institute in St, Petersburg, Fla., said it does raise a clear ethical issue.
“The traditional standards are both eroding and corroding,” he said when told of the plan. “Does Sean Hannity consider himself a journalist? Does Fox News consider his program journalism? If either or both of those answers are yes, there is a serious problem with what he is doing with this event and the financial piece.”
Then there is Dow Smith, who spent 27 years in broadcast news and served as news director at television stations in Miami, the District of Columbia and Detroit. He called it “ethically challenged.”
“There is no way you should be doing this,” said Smith, who is now a journalism professor at Siena College in New York. “If I was a news director and found out one of my reporters had done this, I would have fired them on the spot.”