The polls have been closed, the ballots tallied, and the results of the 2014 elections have seen their day in the press. In a combination of two worlds that seemingly never sleep, the campaign strategies and news stories for the 2016 election are undoubtedly underway. These stories delve far deeper than basic data reporting and are comprised of countless ethical decisions on the part of the reporter and news outlet.
In a discussion with a Castleton Campaigns and Elections class last Tuesday, long-time Vermont Public Radio political news reporter, Peter Hirschfeld said he is faced with questions of morality everyday that vary from whether to eat from a campaign party buffet table to the words he sends to print. He stressed the importance of remaining unbiased due to the influence his words and actions can have on public opinion.
“It’s about your power as a broadcaster. The news you release is going to influence people and the outcomes in the elections. So the real question is, is it worth it?” Hirschfeld said.
He recalled an incident early in his career where he was presented with a series of documents containing information accusing Tom Salmon, who was running for auditor in Vermont at the time, of committing loan defaults in California. Hirschfeld said the information, which he presumed came from whistleblowers, came into his hands just 24 hours before Election Day of that year.
After some deliberation, Hirschfeld and his colleagues decided not to release the information. This decision, which was mirrored by other news outlets in the area, prevented Salmon’s name from being entirely tarnished as voters made their way to the polls and gave him an opportunity to explain his position once the story did hit the stands.
According to Hirschfeld, there are three things to keep in mind when reporting news: Is this something worthy of reporting? How are we going to report it? What are the consequences if this gets out?
Hirschfeld, very animated for a radio broadcaster, was insightful when it came to his profession. To put politics in terms everyone would understand, Hirschfeld compared two politicians to two sports teams.