Journalistic suicide

A cable news anchor in New York has lost his job for making a crank call to one of the station’s talk shows. A Washington Post reporter has been disciplined for sending an angry email. Both journalists expressed their personal opinions in ways they clearly should not have.

According to the New York Daily News, anchor Gary Anthony Ramsay, a 15-year veteran of the local cable outlet New York 1, made comments about the city’s former police chief Bernard Kerik on the station’s nightly talk show, “The Call.”

New York 1 sources said Ramsay committed journalistic suicide by revealing his opinions on Kerik and by not identifying himself when he spoke on “The Call.” When he called, he claimed he was “Dalton, from the upper East Side,” a source said.

The Washington Post’s music critic, Tim Page, got in trouble for responding to an unsolicited press release about the city’s former mayor, Marion Barry. In an email sent from his Post account, Page called Barry a “crack addict” and accused him of “half-witted political grandstanding.”

In her ombudsman column, the Post’s Deborah Howell says being a journalist means giving up some rights to free speech.

Post journalists can get angry. They can have thoughts as bad as any other human being. But they can’t say them in public or put them in writing and send them out into the world. That damages The Post’s credibility.

Page kept his job. He has apologized and been disciplined; the paper won’t say how. What makes one of these infractions a firing offense and the other a disciplinary matter? Here are a few differences: the New York anchor lied by concealing his identity, while the music critic expressed his opinion openly; the anchor reported on the police chief, while the music critic did not report on the former mayor. Are those distinctions enough to justify the different outcomes?

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