Plagiarism Politics Reporting

Campaign season raises ethical issues of press access, plagiarism and fairness

As candidates enter the last month of campaigning in this election season, seemingly perennial ethical issues between journalists and candidates as well as between candidates themselves are once again presenting themselves around the country.

One need look no further than our local Wisconsin media this week to find charges of credentialed journalists being denied access to campaign events.  Meanwhile, charges of plagiarism between candidates regarding their own political communication materials are being thrown back and forth.

This week, a credentialed reporter from Wisconsin Reporter, the state level bureau for Watchdog.org, was barred from a campaign event for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke that featured First Lady Michelle Obama.  Watchdog.org is a project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, and operates as a collection of local, independent journalism dedicated to in-depth and investigative governmental reporting, primarily in small and mid-size markets.

According to the Wisconsin Reporter, the journalist was denied access by Wisconsin Democratic Party communication director Melissa Baldauff because the online publication isn’t a legitimate news source, after initially saying the decision was made based on space limitations.

“Well, you’re not the press though, so, thanks,” Baldauff said, according to Adam Tobias of the Wisconsin Reporter.

In fact, the Wisconsin Reporter has been credentialed by the Wisconsin Capitol Correspondents Board to cover legislative sessions at the statehouse for the past several years.

This decision by the Burke campaign came on the heels of another incident of press restriction in Milwaukee when Burke’s staff tried to block reporters from talking to crowd members Sept. 29 in Milwaukee.

The Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and the UW-Madison Center for journalism Ethics each expressed disappointment in the Burke campaign’s actions.

Robert Drechsel, a journalism professor at the University of Madison-Wisconsin and director the school’s Center for Journalism Ethics, told Wisconsin Reporter he can’t comprehend why the Burke campaign would bar certain media from Tuesday’s campaign rally, especially after the negative attention created at the Milwaukee event.

“I think it’s a very unfortunate thing,” Drechsel said. “It’s certainly not the call I would make.”

In addition to skirmishes between media organizations and candidates, inter-campaign charges of plagiarism have been tossed back and forth.

Dee J. Hall, writing for the The Wisconsin State Journal, reports that campaigns for incumbent Republican candidates Gov. Scott Walker  and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch are both claiming ownership of the phrase “Wisconsin is open for business.”  Walker used it in his 2011 inaugural address, although Kleefisch claims on her website she is “widely credited” for the phrase.  Hall goes on to report the phrase has been used by former Gov. Jim Doyle, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, and agencies in several other states.

This “whose line is it anyway” exchange comes shortly after the Walker campaign criticized competitor Mary Burke for plagiarism because campaign communications used phrases that also appeared in materials for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in other states.  Burke blames the common phraseology on a consultant who repurposed some well-crafted lines without telling the Burke campaign.

Speaking with Hall, Michael Wagner, UW-Madison assistant professor of journalism and political science, said he would not call either Burke’s re-use of language or the common claim of ownership over “Wisconsin is open for business” as plagiarism.

“What Gov. Walker and Burke have done is called practicing politics. It is certainly unimaginative, but that’s not a crime nor is it an ethical violation.”

Read Hall’s article here.

Read Wisconsin Reporter’s article here.

 

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