Peephole journalism: What are the limits?

Just how private is the closed-door talk of the powerful? And if the unguarded comments of politicians who assume they’re speaking in confidence are captured on tape, is it OK to make those tapes public?

That question came up during the 2012 campaign. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney told a roomful of Florida donors that 47 percent of their compatriots would never vote Republican because they were, essentially, parasitic layabouts who had been bought off by government stipends.

A recording of his talk to a private gathering was made by a bartender and made public by Mother Jones magazine. It confirmed the image of Romney that the Democrats had been peddling, as an arrogant, aloof plutocrat who looked down his nose at the working class voters his electoral success depended on.

Did that disclosure intrude on the privacy that Romney and his listeners assumed? Unquestionably.

But was that intrusion justified? Did it give voters a unique chance to hear a candidate who, apparently speaking his mind, uncorked a foul brew of contempt and condescension for nearly half of his fellow countrymen?

I thought so, and although I found the privacy invasion regrettable, I was convinced what it revealed, and what might not have been heard otherwise, made the intrusion justified. Mother Jones and reporter David Corn performed a public service.

I’m not so convinced by the most recent controversy that Corn and the magazine have stirred up with secret recordings of another big league politician.

Earlier this month, Mother Jones reported that the Senate minority leader,  Mitch McConnell, had huddled with campaign aides in Louisville, Ky., to plot his  2014 re-election strategy. According to a clandestine video of their Feb. 2 meeting , the politicos were feasting on the candidacy of film star Ashley Judd, Continue reading “Peephole journalism: What are the limits?”