Torch Ethics 

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The standard has always been in the public arena to avoid even an appearance of conflict of interest. But it’s well known that our legislators don’t mind receiving gifts from the very people pushing agendas on Capitol Hill. They can take those perks, they say, and still make the best decision for the public without the pull of favoritism.

Some in Salt Lake City’s news media bemoan that seeming lack of a strong code of ethics-until, that is, they are offered perks. The latest blind spot in the mirror that Salt Lake City’s news organizations use to monitor themselves is-perhaps not so curiously-embodied in the Olympic flame.

Still, it wasn’t much of a surprise to cynics to see Channel 5 Sports announcer Tom Kirkland run the Olympic torch as it makes its way around the country. Ethicists might ask, how can he be a cheerleader for the Olympics and then pretend that he’s an objective news gatherer? Some might answer that TV journalism runs short on such things as ethics. That’s not to mention that KSL is the affiliate for the network that paid some $500 million for rights to televise the Games. NBC and KSL look ready to set the high water mark for promotion to protect its advertising base at the expense of real news coverage. Chalk it up to the Olympic movement.

As other TV types fell in for a turn at the torch, no one seemed to care much, except that with each new heartfelt story, the torch’s glow seemed to dim. What really caught the attention of astute observers was word that Lisa Riley Roche, the Deseret News reporter who had covered the bid scandal, had accepted an invitation as torchbearer. Deseret News Managing Editor Rick Hall contends it doesn’t constitute a conflict of interest and would not affect the paper’s coverage of the Games.

Some of those howling the loudest were at The Salt Lake Tribune. But when they learned that Trib humor columnist Robert Kirby also would carry the torch, their howls turned quiet. The silence then turned to incredulity last week when Trib staffers found out that longtime Tribune sports columnist Dick Rosetta also would carry the flame.

Tribune Editor James E. Shelledy defended the move, noting that unlike the Deseret News, Rosetta, who had been slated to cover figure skating, will not be reporting on Olympic events as an outcome.

But Tribune Olympics reporter Linda Fantin said the cannon of ethics for journalists forbids accepting perks of any kind. “You don’t get to pick and choose which perks you turn down in this business.”

At least one person in the mainstream news media has ethics.

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