When I objected to Project Veritas's entrapment of NPR because the conservative provocateurs were lying about their own identities, the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto acknowledged, "the techniques in question do not meet the ethical standards of elite journalistic institutions, including of course The Wall Street Journal."
So it'll be interesting to see what the great Taranto makes of a column in today's Journal by Dennis Berman, an editor at the paper. The column recounts how Mr. Berman lied to a company, SharesPost, to set up an account in the name of his dead grandmother. He writes, "Relying on erroneous information that I, as a test, submitted under her name, SharesPost let Grandma into its realm, where only sophisticated individuals and institutions are supposed to swap shares, according to Securities and Exchange Commission rules." More: "On SharesPost's bulletin board for Groupon—which also allowed me passage with a few financial fibs—users gripe about how hard it is to find shares."
Mr. Berman relies on euphemisms — submitting "erroneous information" and "fibs" — but what he really did was he lied. So much for Mr. Taranto's claims about the elite ethical standards of the Wall Street Journal. Or perhaps the standards are indeed elite, but the enforcement of them leaves something to be desired. In any event, it's hard for me to see much difference between Project Veritas's behavior and Mr. Berman's. I've emailed Mr. Berman to ask how he justifies the lie, and I will update this post if I get a response. Update: Mr. Berman has responded with a statement here.
My original objection to the NPR stunt — as well as to the prank call to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker by a left-wing reporter impersonating David Koch — was twofold. First, it weakens the journalistic habit and reputation of truth-telling: "Journalists are supposed to be in the business of truth-telling, not lying." Second, it weakens a journalist's case that people should tell the truth to him: "Without getting too sanctimonious about it, anyone who believes as a general rule in treating others the way they'd like to be treated themselves would probably want to hold their applause for these sorts of operations."