A Debate About Blogging Ethics

In reference to the question posed by Andrew Sullivan about Elena Kagan, "So is She Gay?" Benjamin Sarlin asks another set of questions, about whether it is right for a journalist working for an institution that prides itself on careful journalism to float rumors about a public figure's sexual orientation:

In an e-mail interview with The Daily Beast, Sullivan said that as a blogger, "my job is to think out loud. It is not my job to report stories." As for information on Kagan's orientation, "one need have no 'evidence' beside the fact that she is single and seems to be lacking in any emotional or relationship history to ask a question not about her private life but about her public identity."
But Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, told The Daily Beast that Sullivan's failure to provide any clear evidence that Kagan's sexuality was in question raised major ethical concerns by pushing unsourced rumors into the mainstream press.
"It's slimy locution here in that he writes 'We have been told by many that she is gay,'" Gitlin said. "And what would constitute evidence? If someone shows up and says 'I slept with Elena Kagan when we were in college,' so what? I see nothing but slime down the slippery slope because accusers are a dime a dozen."
Kathleen Culver, a journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who specializes in ethics and new media, added that Sullivan's explanation of his role as a blogger is problematic, given that he is also a member of a widely read mainstream publication.
"Yes, we can be true to ourselves and get our thoughts out," Culver said, "but when you're that widely read and your words can be picked up in other publications, there are larger questions you need to ask beyond just 'Am I being honest to myself?'"
Presented by

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in National

From This Author

Just In