|Open-air Initiation of K.K.K. under the Light of the Fiery Cross. From The Ku Klux Klan In Prophecy 1925. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
The profession has yet to chisel the accepted rules of undercover reporting into stone, but a consensus has formed in recent decades that basically prohibits the direct telling of lies to get a story. So, when presumed Veritas operative Jaime Phillips allegedly lied to the Post about Moore getting her pregnant, and urged the reporters to write the story, she crossed the line. But what she’s alleged to have done—lied in the service of a story—is not without precedent in modern journalism. Reporters have posed as high school students, enlisted in the Ku Klux Klan, faked insanity to be admitted into mental hospitals and donned disguises while chasing stories. Jessica Mitford repeatedly pretended to be shopping for funeral services for a dying aunt while doing the research for The American Way of Death. In All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein confess to having lied to sources and to having impersonated one of the figures they were investigating.
Lying and breaking the law are rightly considered the dark arts of journalism. But that doesn’t mean reporters must pretend to be Boy Scouts in their work. Nearly every journalist practices “deception lite” techniques that don’t rise to lying, lawlessness or even misrepresentation. For instance, when interviewing, some journalists bluff their targets or play stupid to get subjects to volunteer information. Totally legit. Others deliberately create uncomfortable silences for their subjects to fill. Observing people in a public place without first making an introduction? OK. Entering an unlocked office or workplace during business hours without first requesting formal permission? Sure. Pretending to have been impregnated by Roy Moore decades ago? No.