Peter Gleick & Ethics of Impersonation to Get Information

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Peter Gleick & Ethics of Impersonation to Get Information

Postby Kevin » Wed Feb 22, 2012 12:50 pm

Climate scientist Peter Gleick recently made public a suite of internal documents from the right-wing Heartland Institute that outline their intentional, highly-organized, well-funded efforts to manipulate and deceive the U.S. public on a wide scale, through activities from pushing anti-science school curriculum to planted pseudo-experts.

The story is that Gleick originally sent the batch of Heartland Institute documents anonymously to journalists, then came forward several days later to announce that he was the source of transmission, and to apologize for using a false identity in the processes of confirming and adding to the first material, which had been sent to him unasked for.

Joe Romm has written about this, with valuable context, at Think Progress...

Crossing the Line as Civilization Implodes: Heartland Institute, Peter Gleick and Andrew Revkin
http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2012/02/2 ... ent-369098

Andrew Revkin, the repeatedly discredited blogger at the New York Times, who is mentioned in the documents as a Heartland Institute ally, has written about Peter Gleick's actions in very harsh and judgmental terms. (Revkin continues to be an object embarrassment for the New York Times, as Romm details at the link above)...

Peter Gleick Admits to Deception in Obtaining Heartland Climate Files
http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/ ... ate-files/

Bryan Walsh at Time has also posted an opinionated discussion of the issue...

Climate Expert Peter Gleick Admits Deception in Obtaining Heartland Institute Papers
http://ecocentric.blogs.time.com/2012/0 ... te-papers/

These mainstream writers seem to take it for granted that Gleick did something seriously wrong by using a false identity to obtain information from Heartland. And Gleick did step forward, describe his actions, and apologize for his use of deception.

Many commenters on the postings linked above, and beyond, have asked whether Gleick actually did something that's considered unethical in the practice of journalism.

Others have offered various defenses for Gleick's actions, including the fact that Heartland uses deception as a continual aspect of its strategies for public manipulation.

Amid all these opinions and viewpoints - including divergent, often glib assertions of right and wrong - there hasn't been much reference to the fact that the use of impersonation to get information is a much-discussed, fairly basic issue in the ethics of investigative journalism.

For people who'd like to understand this background issue of investigative reporting ethics, and the widely-acknowledged gray area of the use of impersonation to obtain information, here are a couple of postings - predating discussion of Peter Gleick's actions and apology - from an independent, relatively authoritative source:

Lying in the Name of Truth: When Is It Justified for Journalists? - Poynter, 2007.0705
Bob Steele, Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values
http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/ever ... urnalists/

Deception/Hidden Cameras Checklist - Poynter, 2002.0705
Bob Steele, The Poynter Institute 
http://www.poynter.org/uncategorized/74 ... checklist/
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