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But Is It Journalism?

NewsMax runs yet another Judicial Watch press release as a news story. Why is this a bad thing?

By Terry Krepel
Posted 6/18/2000

Any journalist with any shred of self-respect and professional integrity knows better than to pass off a press release as a news story, especially when it is common knowledge that the organization issuing the press release has a history of partisan politics.

Which brings us to NewsMax. Once again NewsMax has run a Judicial Watch press release -- regarding the addition of plaintiffs to a lawsuit over government actions in the Elian Gonzalez case -- nearly verbatim with a NewsMax byline. This brings the total to four in the past month alone.

For the benefit of those who wonder what the big deal is in such an action, let's analyze the "story" and hold it up to the standards of good journalism.

In the first paragraph, you will find the words "illegal," "unconstitutional" and "Nazi-like" used to describe the taking of Elian from the Miami home of Elian's relatives. Further down in the story, the word "totalitarian" is added.

There are two problems with this. First, declaring something illegal and unconstitutional does not make it so. Such a declaration must come in the context of a court ruling for it to be valid and accurate. No court has made a ruling declaring the taking of Elian as illegal or unconstitutional. Therefore, describing it as such is inaccurate without attribution.

Second, there is no attribution. In the absence of a legal ruling, "Illegal," "unconstitutional," "Nazi-like" and "totalitarian" are merely opinions, and basic journalism practice demands that opinions in a news story must be attributed to a person saying them. That does not exist here. No one is quoted as saying these words.

Also, there is no mention of anything that might be considered the "other side" of this story. No comments from the people being sued or their attorneys; no noting that NewsMax even attempted to contact them and their calls were not returned. This is called fairness, something real journalists strive to attain.

This level of bias, one-sidedness and loaded language is perfectly acceptable for the public-relations profession; the Judicial Watch press release is no better or worse than any other press release. But when one tries to pass a press release off as journalism, like NewsMax does here, it falls miserably short of any accepted professional standard.

Since NewsMax is trying to pass itself off as a legitimate work of journalism, that is the standard to which this organization should be held.

And it fails.

This is not journalism.

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