The Ethics of Political Coverage

The second tenant of the National Press Photographers Association’s Code of Ethics, which all members must sign, reads:

Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.

It’s a pretty simple statement – don’t allow people to lie to you, it goes nicely with the Society of Professional Journalists “Seek truth and report it” code.

So what do you do when you’re covering a national political race and it becomes obvious the scene in front of you is a lie? Granted, most political events have been set-up for the benefit of the media and the attendees, but how far do you let that go?

A recent event, as reported over at Bag News Notes, brings this issue up quite clearly. When a candidate for national office “pitches in” at a soup kitchen to help wash dishes, then that’s a photo, right? What if the dishes weren’t dirty? What if no one asked him to help … because no help was needed? Because all the work had already been done?

Mark E. Johnson

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