A misleading phone call to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker on Tuesday, from the Buffalo Beast website pretending to be billionaire David Koch, got the governor to say things about his serious dispute with public sector workers others hadn't unfurled under less deceptive circumstances.
The appropriate organizations (chiefly the Society for Professional Journalists) were incensed. Newsrooms restrained themselves from reporting on what the governor said, although most linked to the interview that caused such a kerfuffle.
Buffalo Beast shot back that the SPJ's own standards suggest its actions were justified. After all, it and others had tried traditional means to get the governor to open up about the workers. It asked: Wasn't this simply the next alternative?
Media ethics professor Stephen J. Ward, who happens to run a journalism ethics institute based in Wisconsin, identified the circumstances under which deception might be acceptable: a serious wrongdoing, when there is no other way to get the information, when one minimizes harm, and when one is prepared to accept public accountability for actions.
As a corollary to that last circumstance, there is the issue of reputation commingled with the issue of practice. Hard-earned reputations evaporate in an instant when the public feels the end did not justify the means.
What do you think?