Should a journalist ever misrepresent his/her identity in order to get a story? Ever since the ABC News/Food Lion fiasco, the answer has been obvious to me. Of course not. It’s unethical.
But what if you’re a political satirist and activist trying to prove that the person you’re calling is a bad guy? Is that OK?
That’s the question I’ve been asking myself in the wake of the blogger and Democratic operative from Buffalo pretending to be wealthy conservative benefactor David Koch in a telephone call to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
The blogger basically got Walker to admit that his intent in proposing the recent controversial legislation is to break the public-sector unions — no big surprise there.
Some are likening this episode to the escapades of the activists who posed as potential clients for ACORN and Planned Parenthood and got employees of those organizations to say embarrassing things. And I think there is some validity to that. The Fox News types who applauded those moves now profess to be horrified at what the Buffalo Beast did to Walker. Conversely, liberals who complained then consider the blogger a hero now.
But there are a couple of important differences. The right-wing activists were impersonating fictitious characters during in-person visits. The Buffalo blogger was impersonating an actual prominent person and taped the phone conversation without the consent of the party he was calling. The latter is a crime in most states. In addition, illegal wiretapping could expose the caller to civil litigation. The question of fraud is another matter entirely and, I am told, is less clear.