Society of Professional Journalists
SPJ: 'No responsible journalist can accept or excuse Fox News behavior'
National group of reporters & editors on allegations regarding cable news stories about Dominion Voting, election conspiracies
Note: Tucson Sentinel Editor & Publisher Dylan Smith is one of nine members of SPJ's national Professional Standards and Ethics Committee, and was one of the drafters of this statement.
The Society of Professional Journalists has been watching Dominion Voting Systems’ lawsuit against Fox News unfold.
Text messages, emails and other recently disclosed court evidence in the case appear to show that popular prime-time Fox News hosts, with support from network executives, gave their viewers false and misleading information, apparently out of concern that fact-based reporting would damage the company’s brand, allowing competitors to siphon away viewers.
News organizations have a fundamental obligation to be honest in the reporting and opinion they disseminate. It is unprofessional, unethical and potentially harmful for a journalist or news organization to deliberately mislead their audience, no matter the motivation or format.
SPJ National President Claire Regan and members of SPJ’s Professional Standards and Ethics Committee find the allegations against Fox News deeply troubling. A fundamental ethical rule of journalism, set out in the SPJ Code of Ethics, is to seek the truth and report it. If a news organization knowingly spreads lies, either in news reporting or opinion, it has clearly breached this most sacred of principles. No responsible journalist can accept or excuse this behavior.
Attorneys for Fox News contend that its coverage of the false election fraud claims in 2020 was reporting on matters of public concern, and its endorsement of such claims, through certain of its on-air hosts, was opinion — free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution.
In recent decades, the lines between factual reporting and commentary have become increasingly blurred. However, responsible opinion hosts and commentators have a duty to use verified facts as the basis of their arguments and to not peddle what they know to be lies and disinformation. Many people use the information they get from their favorite hosts and commentators to form their own opinions.
We support journalists at Fox who have refused to take part in narratives of falsehoods.
Some media companies have found footing in pandering to target audiences on all sides of our cultural and political divides. Appealing to confirmation bias and manufacturing outrage with deceptive posturing for profit, popularity or power while turning away from facts is a cynical and hypocritical strategy. It is unconscionable and an insult to the tens of thousands of American journalists, including many at Fox, who understand their obligation to serve the public interest, not the bottom line.
SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.
Claire Regan is the 2022-23 president of the national Society of Professional Journalists.