Commentary Through Impersonation: Wisconsin & Arizona

There’s been quite a fuss going on about a journalist from an alternative news source calling up a conservative politician and then impersonating a someone the politician would feel was sympathetic.   The alt journalist then uses the material from his ill-gained interview and uses it to make the politician look bad.  Once the interview is published, the Society of Professional Journalists talks about how unethical the deception was.  Meanwhile, the rest of the news media talks on and on about the deception, and the original prankster gets a big laugh over all the attention his gained by flouting journalistic convention.

Wisconsin Governor Scott WalkerYou would be excused if you thought I was talking about how Ian Murphy editor of the Buffalo Beast impersonated billionaire David Koch in order to talk with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.  And you would be right.

But I was also talking about a similar situation that took place 21 years ago.

Arizona Governor Jan BrewerAs I wrote about last year, in the spring of 1990 then Arizona state senator (now governor) Jan Brewer proposed a bill that would require the labeling of record albums that portrayed sexual content in a violent context, violence, Satanism, murder, morbid violence, or the use of illegal drugs. It would also have made it crime to sell these offensive albums to minors.

The music reviewer for the Phoenix-area alternative newspaper New Times taped a series of interviews with the senator while pretending to be from the Mesa Tribune, a local conservative daily.

With the material from the taped interviews, the music critic constructed a rap tape based on the group W.A.S.P.’s song “F*** Like a Beast” using Senator Brewer’s voice. He then played this tape over a sound system at noon at the state Capitol. For several weeks, stories about the conflict continued to surface across Arizona and national media. The fuss finally died when Brewer withdrew her bill from consideration.

The punking of Governors Walker and Brewer, and the subsequent media fusses over them, serves as a great reminder of Truth #4 of the Seven Truths They Don’t Want You To Know About The Media – Nothing’s New:  Everything that happens in the past will happen again.

A thoughtful person might also ask how being deceptive in search of a satirical story compares to being deceptive while working on a serious story, such as ABC’s investigation of misconduct in food handling at Food Lion stores?

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2 Responses to Commentary Through Impersonation: Wisconsin & Arizona

  1. Pat McFadden says:

    Excellent post, Dr. H! Times like this make me miss my journalism ethics class and the debates that would follow.

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