In case you missed it, below is a highly unprofessional column by Chicago Tribune media columnist Phil Rosenthal attacking the business editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, Dan Miller, for violating journalist ethics by asking other journalists to keep an open mind on the controversial issue of global warming.
Rosenthal quotes Bob Steele, an “ethics scholar” at the Poynter Institute, who claims Miller’s conduct “is actively urging a particular examination, and I would suggest a point of view, on a substantive public policy issue” and therefore “raises serious ethical concerns.”
Really? All Dan Miller did was send a DVD case containing two documentary films on global warming–one by Al Gore and one by respected British filmmaker Martin Durkin–to some of his journalist colleagues asking them to “keep an open mind on this important topic.” The dual DVD set fairly represents both sides of the debate and encourages viewers to make up their own minds. Miller’s letter appears at the bottom of this email.
Dan Miller, a 2006 inductee into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame, is widely known for his rock-solid integrity and character. If there were any violations of journalist ethics, they were by Bob Steele for issuing a bizarre opinion, and the Chicago Tribune for not spiking a potentially libelous story.
The Heartland Institute
19 South LaSalle Street #903
Chicago, IL 60603
Email [email protected]
Editor may feel some heat after letter, DVDs
November 18, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times Business Editor Dan Miller apparently believes this paper doesn’t have enough editors to guide its staff. Two Chicago Tribune reporters received a letter under his name urging them to “keep an open mind” on global warming.
The letter and a pair of DVD documentaries with dueling perspectives were sent on behalf of the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, described by a spokesman as a non-profit free-market think tank “dedicated to educating elected officials, professionals, the media” and others.
“The alarmist or kind of an extreme example, Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’ is presented as well as a European documentary by Martin Durkin that won a lot of awards called ‘The Great Global Swindle,'” Tom Swiss, Heartland’s public affairs director, said of the package in an interview. “The idea is there’s a lot of hyperbole surrounding this and we want people to make an educated choice. … If it came from just ourselves, it would look like an advertisement and just get lost.”
The letters went to others in the media, Swiss said. Others whom Swiss declined to name signed cover letters that accompanied packages for those in other fields. “A letter from someone in their industry makes it stand out,” Swiss said, noting that Miller, who oversaw Heartland publications in 1998 and 1999 before joining the Sun-Times, is friends with Heartland President and Chief Executive Joseph Bast.
Efforts to reach Miller by phone and e-mail for comment Thursday and Friday were unsuccessful. Sun-Times Editor in Chief Michael Cooke indicated Thursday that he did not know about the Heartland packages and wanted to talk to Miller, a 2006 Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame inductee. The Nov. 12 letter “From the desk of Dan Miller, Business Editor, Chicago Sun-Times,” does not explicitly urge a stance. But, according to Bob Steele, an ethics scholar at the Poynter Institute for media studies, it’s still problematic.
“Independence is still a linchpin principle for the credibility of journalists and journalism,” Steele said. “When we become activists, we at least raise the perception that we are not independent. And if we are activists in the way it appears [Miller] is, then it’s more than just a perception.
“He is actively urging a particular examination, and I would suggest a point of view, on a substantive public policy issue. He’s also pitching it in a problematic way to other journalists, using his journalistic connections in doing so.”
Most news organizations discourage staffers from being activists, particularly on issues that touch on what they cover or edit, Steele said. “It would be exceptionally hard to argue that global warming doesn’t fall somewhere in the sphere of business,” he said. “At least based on the cards I see on the table, it raises serious ethical concerns.”
Swiss said Heartland is independent and no corporation contributes more than 5 percent of Heartland’s budget, and total contributions of all energy firms do not reach 5 percent. The group’s Web page, Heartland.org, Web site’s home page features a picture of Gore headlined “Global Warming Snowjob,” but Swiss called the DVD package and letter “balanced in that both sides are equally represented.”
As for the idea Miller is being forthright and open, rather than hiding his beliefs, by helping Heartland advance its aims, Poynter’s Steele had doubts. “Transparency without accountability is hollow,” he said.
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
Now here’s Dan Miller’s letter:
From the desk of
Business Editor, Chicago Sun-Times
November 12, 2007
Global warming is one of the most controversial issues journalists have to address today. On the one hand we hear Former Vice President Albert Gore and the United Nations saying “the debate is over.” On the other hand, we hear a chorus of dissent from scientists and economists, many of them quite distinguished, saying the debate has only begun.
I urge you to keep an open mind on this important topic. To help you do so, I am enclosing two documentary films on DVD, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which recently won an Academy Award, and “The Great Global Warming Swindle,” which was produced by respected British film maker Martin Durkin and broadcast on British television.
I hope you can find some time to watch one or both of the films. When you finish viewing the movies, please feel free to pass them along to friends and colleagues.
You will notice that the DVDs were provided by The Heartland Institute, a 23-year-old national nonprofit organization based in Chicago. Heartland’s president, Joseph Bast, tells me no corporate funding was used to purchase or package these DVDs, in case that matters to you. I think it speaks highly of an organization that it is willing to present both sides of an issue.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and to view one or both of these important movies.