The Ethics in Betty Crocker?


Superchefblog ran into a dilemma over which version of a story to print today, so we are running both: we welcome your comments and observations.

Story 1: The Light Side

Houston Chronicle logo
Since first being interviewed by Nicki Britton of The Houston Chronicle for her story "Mac 'N' Cheese in Espanol" (see previous article, publisher Juliette Rossant has been quoted (and Superchefblog mentioned) all over the country in newspapers including:
The Arizona Republic
The Miami Herald
The San Diego Union-Tribune
Philadelphia Inquirer Food Section
Philadelphia Inquirer
Monterey Herald
Fort Wayne News-Sentinel
Portsmouth Herald News

Story 2: The Dark Side

Philadelphia Inquirer logo

Several weeks after publication of The Houston Chronicle's article entitled "Mac 'N' Cheese in Espanol" by Nicki Britton, The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story called "A thoroughly modern Betty Crocker" by Marilynn Marter. The Inquirer article quoted Juliette Rossant without reference to The Houston Chronicle or Nicki Britton.

The only problem is, Juliette Rossant had never spoken to Marilynn Marter or anyone else at The Philadelphia Inquirer -- so where had the quote come from?

Superchefblog contacted Joseph Natoli, Publisher and Chairman at The Inquirer, and explained the situation. Mr. Natoli expressed concern and delegated the matter to Amanda Bennett, Editor and Executive Vice President. A few days later, The Inquirer's Arts & Features editor, Sandra Clark, reported that the draft version of Marilynn Marter's story included attribution to The Houston Chronicile article, but that:
In the rewrite, much of the material from that article was stripped out of the story. The quote in question was added back, per request from the copy desk, but the attribution failed to get added... We will be issuing a correction and will make every effort to prevent this from happening again.
With sincere apology, too.

That's all fine and well, but in fact here is what followed. The Philadelphia Inquirer reissued the story online. Further, they sent it for syndication via Knight-Ridder newswire service. Subsequently, the story went through a second round of publication across the country, including:
Monterey Herald
Fort Wayne News-Sentinel
Portsmouth Herald News

Only problem is, they never added the attribution to either Nicki Britton, nor to The Houston Chronicle!

Now, let's be clear about where Superchefblog is going with this series of events.

First of all, Superchefblog itself has in no way been harmed.

Second, Superchefblog admires The Philadelphia Inquirer, including such journalists as features columnist Michael Klein (who writes on Food) and international columnist Trudy Rubin, who published a provocative book on Iraq last year entitled Willful Blindness: The Bush Administration and Iraq. And let's not forget Pulitzer Prize winning veterans like Richard Ben Cramer (who, BTW, also wrote a provocative book on the Israel-Palestine Question laste year entitled How Israel Lost: The Four Questions ). The Inquirer was founded in 1829: this is a newspaper that has an enduring reputation.

Third, Superchefblog also admires The Houston Chronicle and journalist Nicki Britton -- more so, in this case, for picking up the idea from Superchefblog's original story, citing us, interviewing Juliette Rossant, and then expanding the story. That is legitimate and respectable journalism. In fact, in this case, we were less impressed by The Philadelphia Inquirer comparatively, who, in all likelihood simply rewrote the Chronicle's story rather than paying them a reprint fee started out the same way, expanding on the Chronicle's article -- and then somewhere along the way "forgot" the citations.

However, there have been a terrible spate of problems in Journalism Ethics over the past half decade, from the question of crediblity embodied in the US Department of Defense's "embedding" technique (a debate raging from RAND's study of its success to the Columbia School of Journalism's concern over censorship -- see videos and the Columbia Review of Journalism) to ongoing troubles at the nation's leading newspaper, The New York Times (e.g., the Jayson Blair case). At present, we have PlameGate which centers around a parade of top-name journalists and has already led to the departure of Judy Miller from The New York Times.

In this milieu, what all Media need to do is assure the public that they are battening down the hatches and tightening up on ethical practices. Cocina Betty Crocker is no way about to bring down The Philadelphia Inquirer: it's just another brick in the wall that is going up around corporate-minded owners of newspapers and other Media around the country -- with attitudes that are cheap, cynical, lazy, sloppy, and indifferent at best.

Why couldn't The Philadelphia Inquirer just follow through on their promise, live up to Journalism Ethics, and fix this article by properly citing either The Houston Chronicle or Nicki Britton, or both of them? Print damage (for what it's worth) is done, but online takes seconds to amend -- and is more accessible, globally, than hard copy versions.

Why worry about this small issue?

Uncle Sam v Betty Crocker

Because if they can't make a "correction" like an article about something as harmless as Betty Crocker, what are they going to do on tougher subjects, like Uncle Sam -- or Big Brother? Did The Inquirer break the Abu Ghraib story? (Sorry, that was Seymour Hersh for The New Yorker.)

Do you trust a source like that?

Previous articles:
Syndicated: Superchefblog on Betty Crocker
Houston Chronicle Interviews Superchefblog
Cocina Betty Crocker: Portent?
Mother's Day Gift: Finding Betty Crocker
[Superchefblog Citatations]

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