Journalism ethics?

Some of you may have seen the column by Linda Caillouet in today’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in which she suggests I may be ethically challenged because I both report on the West Memphis case and advocate hard as I can for new trials. Here’s the email I sent her this morning:

Dear Linda,

I’m sorry you didn’t call me to ask about my presumed conflict of interest. I would have been happy to tell you “the rest of the story,” which is this: I have been writing about the West Memphis case since 1994. Most of what I’ve written, including Devil’s Knot, I’ve written as a reporter, holding to what I believe are high standards of fairness and accuracy. Over the years, I have also written columns and opinion pieces about the case, based on what I’ve learned.

As support for the convicted men grew, public officials here in Arkansas began to receive volumes of mail critical of their trials. In turn, as local media began to ask questions the response of many officials was that Arkansans were confident that the right men were in prison. They added that the complainers were people from out-of-state who didn’t know what really happened. About four years ago, upon hearing that response yet again, I decided to speak out. After all, I am an Arkansan and, having reported on this case in depth, I do know what transpired. At a time when few people in Arkansas understood the gravity of this situation, I felt that working to call attention to the case was the responsible thing to do. I wrote to Max Brantley, my editor at the Arkansas Times, and told him that, while I intended to continue to report on the case, I was also going to speak out, denouncing all that was wrong with the trials and advocating for new—and fair—ones. Max said okay, and that is what I’ve done since.

I have been very up-front about this, both in writing and in public appearances. If you took the time, for instance, you could hear me explain this transition in a talk I gave recently at North Little Rock’s Laman Library, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAdH_aB4HJk. I have a good reputation, which I value. Perhaps because of that, and because I have been so forthright about my dual roles in this matter, no one that I know of—until you—has suggested a “problem” with my ethics.

I did enjoy meeting you at the Capitol Hotel bar Saturday night, but I think you took a cheap—and uninformed—shot this morning. I hope you’ll be able to find a few words in a future column to explain that, like many fine journalists before me, I have taken a public stand opposing an abuse of power.

Sincerely,
Mara

I think that little ethics ball is in her court now. Let’s see how she responds.