Sources, Attribution and Transparency: It's an Ethics Thing →

After the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, a common story that’s appeared is what “ordinary” Americans think of the decision.

Both NPR and NBC canvased the country to get insight. And both, somehow, end up interviewing a New Jersey man named Joe Olivo. In each report, he’s presented as a small business owner who says that the Affordable Care Act will either prevent him from hiring more people or force him to stop offering health insurance at all.

What neither report mentions is that Olivo is a member of the National Federation of Independent Business, a group that opposes the Affordable Care Act, has testified in congressional hearings against the act and has appeared numerous times on television stating the same.

Via Balloon Juice:

Wow — two news organizations covering the same story scoured the nation for a random small business owner to comment on that story — and they both found the same one! How’d that happen? What are the odds?

Well, as it turns out, Joe Olivo of Perfect Printing turns up quite a bit in public discussions of this and other issues. Here he is testifying against the health care law before House and Senate committees in January 2011. Here he is on the Fox Business Network around the same time, discussing the same subject. Here he is a few days ago, also on Fox Business, talking to John Stossel about the law. Here he is discussing the same subject on a New Jersey Fox affiliate.

And here he is in July 2010 discussing small business hiring with Neil Cavuto on Fox News. Here he is opposing an increase in the minimum wage in an MSNBC debate a couple of weeks ago.

Go to many of these links and you find out something about Joe Olivo that NPR and NBC didn’t tell you: he’s a member of the National Federation of Independent Business. NFIB’s site and YouTube page promote many of Olivo’s public appearances. He was the subject of an NFIB “My Voice in Washington” online video in 2011.

NFIB, you will not be surprised to learn, is linked to the ALEC and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, and to the usual rogues’ gallery of right-wing zillionaires.

So Joe Olivo isn’t just some random business owner — he’s dispatched by NFIB whenever there’s a need for someone to play a random small business owner on TV.

Thanks, NPR and NBC — you asked us to smell the grass, and you didn’t even notice it was Astroturf. Or you noticed, but you didn’t want us to.

Is it wrong for NPR and NBC to use Olivo as a source in their reporting? Most certainly not. Is it wrong for neither of them to mention that Olivo has opposed health care reform and is a member of a national organization actively opposing it as well? Absolutely.

Basically, it’s a matter of identifying sources in their entirety so that the public can make its judgement on the reliability of his or her statements. And if that sounds like something from the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, it should. It’s item number three.

Or, as NPR writes in its ethics handbook:

If it is important for listeners or readers to know, for example, what political party the source is from, we report that information. If it is important to know what agency the source is from, we report that. If it is important to know which side of an issue the source represents, we report that.

Unfortunately, this is how reporting often works. A small case this, but remember the 2008 New York Times investigation that examined the role “military experts” play on TV. In that article we learned that “most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air,” and that those affiliations were seldom, if ever, disclosed to the public.

Bonus: The Pew Center Project for Excellence in Journalism’s link list to ethics guidelines of news organizations around the world.

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    Okay that’s it My news channel from now on is Comedy Central
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  23. frivolessismore reblogged this from futurejournalismproject and added:
    So disheartening. Not surprising in the case of NBC, but I rely on NPR and expect more from them.