There is a long history of ethical journalists going to extreme lengths to protect their sources. Many a good journalist has suffered prison for contempt rather than reveal their sources.
In the Watergate scandal the editor knew the source of the story but the owner (Katie Graham) did not.
And Katie Graham would never have asked. She may have asked the editor if he was sure of his story but she would never have asked who "Deep Throat" was. As owner she appoints her editors and on really important matters has to trust them.
Ok - now look at News Corp. The News of the World ran lots of fantastic stories. They were accurate. We now know how they were (criminally) obtained.
The journalist most certainly knew. The editor almost certainly asked and knew. But the proprietor would not normally know and it would be untoward of him to ask.
But now we have the journalist profession - led by Felix Salmon whose judgement I am more and more questioning - absolutely sure that Rupert and James Murdoch knew and are personally responsible for the hacking scandal.
It seems the journalist profession has forgotten all about the ethics of journalists. It would be inappropriate for Rupert and James Murdoch to be told the source if the journalist wanted it protected and it would be inappropriate for Rupert and James Murdoch to ask.
Of course a large slab of the journalist profession has forgotten all about journalist ethics and just assumed that the proprietor should and does know.
Of course they have. These journalists are themselves non-ethical. They have forgotten journalist ethics.
When you talk to a journalist off-the-record you have - in the past - had a reasonable basis for presuming that the off-the-record conversation will be respected. You can't assume that anymore. Journalists have forgotten the basic ethics of the profession.
There is a loss to society in the Rupert and James Murdoch scandal - but the bigger loss is not the News of the World or News Corp. The bigger loss is journalists who have made themselves into scumbags with no more ethics than the average blogger.
There is however one remaining ethical company - one where you can be assured that if you talk off-the-record the proprietor will remain ignorant.
The last ethical newspaper company is News Corp. Do not talk off-the-record to any other company.
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