Shedding light with the dark side of journalism

It was immoral. It was sleazy. It was completely unethical.

When Gonzo journalist Ian Murphy posed as an official-type guy Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker would actually take call from in order to get Walker on the horn, it was everything journalism isn’t supposed to be.

I love it.

Here’s the tape.

Forget how silly Walker must be to go on the tirade he did to a man sounding like Robocop saying “beautiful” as an entire sentence 67 times. Don’t think about his support of childish schemes to lock paychecks inside desks to lure Democrats back to the office or, essentially, listen only for the sake of listening to the opposing side of a union-related debate that’s captivated the nation. You can even disregard the humor he found in Murphy – posed as someone else, remember – suggesting he take a baseball bat to a discussion with Democrats.

How about what it took for a thought-to-be colleague to get in touch with Walker? How is that acceptable?

It’s only reasonable to assume reporters – namely those Walker didn’t like – have quite the time getting in touch with the rookie governor. How is that First Amendement-like? Doesn’t sound very democratic. It sounds almost – gee, I don’t know – like a dictatorship.

Okay, okay … I’m going too far. While surely there’s an element of Walker, 43, avoiding people who want to poop on his plan to make a  splash two months into his tenure, most of it probably boils down to priorities. I’d have to guess – and again, this is purely my instinct – Walker doesn’t consider returning phone calls important.

I’ve met an official or two like this before. City managers, county directors and elected officials – although school board members and council members are nearly off the hook for returning calls since they aren’t full-time officials – have all been guilty. Some high-rankers – including S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford, whose accessibility to the media may have been what made reporters suspicious when he was in Argentina cheating on his Southern Belle of a wife with someone who wasn’t even American (a huge mistake in the Bible Belt) – are dependable, returning calls within 24 hours.

On the other hand, I’m still waiting 742 local yokels in the Carolinas to call me back.

That’s why Murphy’s maneuver – inaccurately labeled a “prank” call – is so wonderful. In order for reporters to report, they need to speak to the right people. Freedom of the press doesn’t do a lot of good when reporters only write annual profile stories of charter schools, progress reports on shopping malls and black history features.

Murphy lived up to the journalistic standards of Hunter S. Thompson, the guy who pioneered Gonzo journalism. In war, armies don’t fire on other armies that have surrendered. Doctors don’t violate living wills. And journalists aren’t supposed to lie in order to get a story.

But those who do sometimes go down in history …

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