Upholding a media standard
The Wall Street Journal strikes a blow for restoring public trust
Newspaper reporters aren’t expected to be purer than Caesar’s wife (not even the wife of a Julius Caesar passing as Donald Trump), but a reporter who doesn’t measure up to his newspaper’s established ethical standards can expect to pay for it.
Jay Solomon, a highly regarded foreign-affairs correspondent, and The Wall Street Journal, also highly regarded in the trade, learned that the hard way this week. He was fired for violating the newspaper’s rule against having the wrong kind of dealings with a source. If this kind of ethics code is catching, it might clear out a lot of certain newsrooms.
The Associated Press reports that Mr. Solomon was let go after his employers discovered that he was offered a 10 percent stake in Denx LLC, a company owned by Farhad Azima, an American citizen who was born in Iran. Denx LLC has transported weapons for the CIA to trouble spots around the world.
It’s not clear whether Mr. Solomon took the 10 percent stake or otherwise benefited from his affiliation with Mr. Azima, but the AP said it had obtained emails and text messages in a broader investigation that included a document that lists such a stake in the company in Mr. Solomon’s name.
Mr. Solomon told the news agency that he “clearly made mistakes in my reporting and entered into a world I didn’t understand. I never entered into any business with Farhad Azima, nor did I ever intend to. But I understand why the emails and conversations with Mr. Azima may look like I was involved in some seriously troubling activities. I apologize to my bosses and colleagues at the Journal, who were nothing but great to me.”
The Journal, which as the nation’s pre-eminent business newspaper, collects volumes of useful information about thousands of companies, has one of the most rigid employee codes against conflicts of interest. Mr. Solomon, who has worked at the Journal for two decades, is author of “The Iran Wars: Spy Games, Bank Battles and Secret Deals That Reshaped the Middle East,” published by Random House last year.
Bias of all kinds afflicts the news trade, and not just in business journalism. The mainstream media has become widely mistrusted not for its coverage of business matters, but more for its coverage of politics and cultural affairs. It’s not a conspiracy; it’s worse than that. It’s a consensus, that diverse points of view, such as conservative or skeptical of conventional wisdom, need not be respected or accommodated. This unrelenting consensus is what has robbed the media of its reputation as a reliable, unbiased watchdog for the American people.
Perhaps the Solomon incident, astonishing if not shocking in a time when the wishy-washy is good enough for ethical principle, will change things. Or perhaps not. A cynic once observed that looking for an ethic in a newsroom is like looking for a virgin in a bordello. You might find one, but it’s not the first place to look.
We wish Mr. Solomon well, and The Wall Street Journal, too, for doing what it concluded was the right thing. Doing the right thing is not always easy, but necessary if the media regains the trust of its readers and viewers.