Journalism is about publishing the facts without regard to personalities or opinions. News organizations rely on their leadership – usually the editors – to decide how the context of stories are presented. The decision to present context is usually to protect certain individuals. However, the decision on context should never be about animosity or obscuring facts. For example, publishing the images of the injuries or the image of a sexual assault victim will likely not add important context to the elements of the story. In certain cases where the assault is not clear or the context is an important element, the criminal record of an assault victim may add important facts to a story. Each case would have to be decided based on the elements. But the decision to exclude facts should be based on whether they endanger the victim. For example, a crime victim of a drug dealer. But excluding relevant context should never be to hide the context that provides more information to the news consumer.
Recently, Bob Moore the CEO of El Paso Matters, whose byline frequently appears on the online publication, opined on a mugshot published by KDBC on Twitter. Moore’s comments about KDBC’s publishing a mugshot again exposes that Bob Moore sees journalism as protecting certain individuals for personal bias instead of reporting the facts surrounding a news item.
Should news outlets publish mugshots of convicted criminals and those merely accused of a crime is often a topic of discussion. In a society the presumes “innocence until proven guilty,” the publishing of an accused’s mugshot suggests a criminal act before the courts have ruled on the matter.
Publishing mugshots are clickbait for news organizations that make money for them. The more clicks the more advertising dollars. News outlets began to rethink the publishing of mugshots after questions of their intent were asked.
Nonetheless, mugshots are public records and most jurisdictions make them public by asking for them. They remain clickbait. Their use online is an important discussion to have.
However, in the case of Bob Moore, his opining on KDBC’s publishing a mugshot goes to the deeper issue of an eroding line between journalism and injecting oneself into a news issue. Although Bob Moore is free to opine on the issue of the mugshot used by KDBC, his opinion lays bare Moore’s bias when it comes to certain individuals in the community.
The KDBC mugshot of Latavia McGee, one of the survivors of a kidnapping in México, had Moore opining that “there is zero – zero – justification for publishing this mugshot.” Moore does not explain why the mugshot should not have been published. However, the context of the individual having been kidnapped in México and the subsequent narrative of whether the victims were involved in the drug trade suggests that Moore may be arguing that publishing the mugshot further victimizes the individual by bringing up the context that she faces criminal charges. Moore could argue that publishing her picture could make her a target of the drug cartels, but a quick Google search of her name reveals that her mugshot and her picture are readily available on the internet.
Thus, the likely scenario is that Bob Moore is opining from the position of inherent bias that the context surrounding McGee should not be part of the narrative about the kidnappings in México. Bias has no place in journalism as facts should dictate the news reports.
While at the El Paso Times, Bob Moore sat at the helm of the newspaper when the El Paso Police Department routinely published mugshots of individuals arrested on sex charges or of driving while intoxicated as part of morality programs to control immorality in El Paso.
Moreover, Bob Moore recently stated to KRWG “that it is often the police who decide which mug shots get sent to and used by the media.” Moore, as far as we can tell, has never taken the position that publishing mugshots is inherently wrong.
As a matter of fact, in 2018, Bob Moore wrote about a political action committee (PAC) that targeted Veronica Escobar for the Texas Monthly. The article was accompanied prominently by the mugshot of the subject of Moore’s article. Although it is not known how Texas Monthly received the copy of the mugshot, the adjectives used by Moore in his article suggest that Moore provided the publication with the mugshot. Follow up commentary and at least one report on El Paso Matters also suggests that Moore has a personal animosity towards the principal of the PAC.
Normally an expressed opinion about a mugshot on its own is just curiosity. But in the case of Bob Moore, his comments are part of a duality about Bob Moore where he espouses journalistic integrity while acting unethically. The mugshot opinion demonstrates a pattern of how personal bias drives Moore’s journalism.
This is not the first time that Moore’s journalistic ethics have been questioned. Moore has been accused of bias by this publication, fellow journalists and individuals from the community. This latest example merits a further discussion about Moore’s comments about the decision to publish the mugshot by another news outlet because his opinion exposes bias-driven journalism rather than writing about the facts without bias.
Ethics In Journalism Matters: The Case of Stephen Glass
Recently Fox News made headline news when it agreed to settle a defamation case brought by Dominion Voting Systems. On Tuesday, Fox News agreed to pay Dominion $787.5 million. The settlement is the largest in a defamation lawsuit and although Moore’s tweet is not about defamation, the Fox News settlement demonstrates that journalism can be sanctioned when appropriate. For journalists, the 1998 case of Stephen Glass shows that when journalism goes awry it can destroy a career and can lead to the demise of a news outlet.
The case of Stephen Glass is the quintessential example of assuming that a journalist can do no wrong and when the fraud is exposed it can destroy careers. Stephen Glass was a writer for The New Republic who “was turning out bizarre and amazing stories week after week for The New Republic, Harper’s, and Rolling Stone, each one a home run.” The problem was that Glass was making up the events and characters he was writing about. A review of Glass’ works found that “very few of his stories were completely true.” Moreover, Glass went to “extreme lengths to hide his fabrications” by writing fake notes and fabricating fake voicemails and business cards.
Glass became the subject of ethics in journalism classes because of his transgressions. Glass is the epitome of things journalists should not do.
Glass is not the only journalist to become embroiled in journalistic ethical lapses. Jayson Blair resigned from the New York Times on May 1, 2003. Blair had plagiarized several articles he wrote for the New York Times and other newspapers he had worked for. An investigation by the newspaper found problems with more than 600 articles. Among Blair’s journalistic malfeasance was stealing articles from other news outlets.
Although El Paso Matters and its reporters do not rise to level of what Glass perpetuated at The New Republic or why Fox News is paying Dominion to settle the lawsuit, the cases help illustrate the problems with Bob Moore and his publication.
Plagiarism is a problem in the news media. We have documented several problems with El Paso Matters and particularly with Bob Moore for years. Most recently, El Paso Matters published an article where the reporter, Diego Mendoza-Moyers wrote that the El Paso Electric Company unwittingly paid for Proposition K. Mendoza-Moyers’ article focused on the campaign contributions made by proponents and opponents of the climate charter. The article, however, added that El Paso Electric had helped launch Proposition K through a payment to settle a controversy over the Newman Power Station in 2021.
We originally reported that the El Paso Electric Company has unwittingly paid for Proposition K on March 29. Although we arrived at the connection independently through our own research, we nonetheless noted and attributed that the Texas Tribune had made the connection two days before we published our article.
However, the Tribune’s connection to the electric company’s settlement and Proposition K was a small paragraph in a lengthy article that indirectly connected Proposition K to the settlement. We suspected that El Paso Matters became aware of the connection between Proposition K and the El Paso Electric settlement, but we assumed that the reporter, Diego Mendoza-Moyers was told about the connection and likely told not to credit us in his work.
We set out to test this theory by sending Mendoza-Moyers an email on Saturday, April 8 pointedly letting him know that the connection between the utility and the climate charter was made by us. We also expressed our strong belief that for the reporter “to leave that fact out is a lack of journalistic ethics.” As is our custom, we copied Bob Moore in our email.
We routinely send emails to El Paso Matters and Bob Moore asking for comment on upcoming articles and since 2020, Moore and his publication have refused to answer our questions or reply to our emails. Between 2013 and 2020, Moore replied to our requests for clarifications or comments but since 2020 he had refused to respond to us.
However, his response to our email to his reporter on a Saturday simply stating that the source of the settlement money and Proposition K was the Texas Tribune only confirmed our belief that it was our article that made the connection for Moore. It is our belief that Moore had chosen to direct his reporter to not credit us or he did not tell the reporter that it was us who made the connection for him.
Our query to his reporter must have struck a nerve with Bob Moore for him to respond on a Saturday, especially after almost three years of ignoring our requests. Mendoza-Moyers never responded to us.
Plagiarism In Journalism
Readers likely understand that plagiarism in schoolwork is wrong but defining journalistic plagiarism and how it is wrong is difficult to comprehend. Borrowing from other publications without attribution has led to firings, suspensions and notes added to articles. On November 7, 2014, Newsweek added editor’s notes to seven of Fareed Zakaria’s articles stating that Zakaria “borrowed extensively” from other work without attributing it. Two years before, Zakaria had been suspended by CNN and Time for plagiarizing a column. The problem with Zakaria’s work was “patch writing,” where work is plagiarized by making “small changes” to articles to “mask the theft of larger ideas.”
Slate’s Jacob Weisberg wrote an email to Columbia Journalism Review in 2014 regarding Zakaria’s problems by defining journalistic plagiarism as involving “not just using someone else’s research or ideas without credit, but also taking passages of prose and distinctive language.” [emphasis ours]
Although we cannot prove that Bob Moore took the electric company connection to Proposition K we asserted in our article and directed that we are not to be credited, his response to our query after years of ignoring us suggests that is the case. For us, Weisberg’s definition of journalistic plagiarism fits what we believe routinely happens with El Paso Matters.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Comparative Media Studies states that to avoid plagiarizing, the writer who uses “ideas or information that are not common knowledge,” as is the case of the connection between Proposition K and the electric company settlement – the source “must” be cited. It adds that “when in doubt,” cite the source.
Over a year ago we made the case that El Paso Matters should properly credit our work and yet Bob Moore still refuses to, even though journalistic ethics requires him to credit us. Bob Moore’s opinion that KDBC should not publish a mugshot that adds context to an important news story only adds important context and further demonstrates that Bob Moore is ethically challenged as a journalist.
Ethical journalism is as important as accuracy. If Bob Moore cannot be ethical, what does that say about the work produced by El Paso Matters. El Paso deserves honest and accurate reporting on the issues that matter.