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Our Opinion: Union compromises journalism ethics

November 9, 2006 7:33 AM

Voters once again could see the influence of union money in county elections. In one case, public employee and other labor groups chipped in $100,000 to a candidate for local office.

But there could be another player on the scene in our community. A national labor organization that aims to represent some reporters and copy editors at this newspaper has a history of political donations and dealings.

Sometimes, political checks from unions go through the national office or leaders to politicians. But in a troubling case from late September, a Teamsters local chapter representing journalists gave money to politicians and political groups on Long Island in New York. The newspaper Newsday reported: "The union that represents Newsday reporters made campaign contributions to high-ranking Suffolk politicians and political fund-raising committees on at least six occasions this year -- a move that editors and staff now fear could call into question how the paper covers the news."

This is a serious breach of public trust. How will the community see the journalists as impartial after this supposed out-of-character lapse in judgment by the labor chapter they run?

The article added: "Among those receiving donations from Local 406 of the Graphic Communications Conference/International Brotherhood of Teamsters were Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, the Islip Town Democratic Committee, the Suffolk chapter of the Working Families Party, and Pamela J. Greene, the Islip councilwoman who (later) was certified the winner in a heated Republican primary for town supervisor against Suffolk Legislator Thomas Barraga."

A communications professor at Hofstra University in New York said at the time: "If it's your union -- and your union dues -- that are going to fund a particular candidate, I think, as a journalist, I would be screaming long and loud. Journalists have to adhere to the highest ethical standards. . . . I don't have a problem saying this is 100 percent wrong."

One-hundred percent wrong, indeed.

Yet now a labor group that has admitted to this problem wants to come to Santa Barbara to represent reporters.

For journalists who believe in independence and being impartial, its tactics and practices present ethical conflicts.

Newsday's newsroom, for some, always will have at least an appearance of bias, thanks to the union's actions. The Teamsters have cost the newsroom some of its integrity, as the management is left to try to build the credibility back because of these wayward actions.

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