Should journalists take an oath similar to the Hippocratic Oath taken by doctors? Local journalist Mel Baker explored that idea on his blog and is asking for opinions about it. He writes:

    “… the greatest crisis facing us is the blurring of the line between opinion and journalism. The wall that is supposed to separate our work from advertising or public relations is increasingly under threat. More worrisome still, fewer and fewer of our fellow citizens understand that there ever was and should be such a distinction!”

He credits Bill Moyers for first suggesting the oath, but takes the idea a step further:

    It could remind us as journalists of our responsibilties to provide factual, fair and unbiased news and information to our fellow citizens. If such an oath were adopted by individual journalists it could help us resist any institutional pressures we might face to violate those standards.

    A Journalist’s Oath or Pledge might also reassure a skeptical public that we are committed to upholding the highest standards in our reporting. Ideally, it would provide the same moral force that the Hippocratic Oath does for patients who know their doctors have vowed to “first, do no harm.”

Here’s a link to his blog.

SF Press Club News


  1. From Mel Baker,

    Having taken a look at the comments again some months later, I’m stunned by the clear fact that none of those who shot down the idea had clearly bothered to read my entire article, instead of just taking cheap shots from the pull quotes on this site.

    Come now all you anonymous posters, if you are as I expect fellow members of the profession you should at least read the whole piece before you run off and write a response!

    I certainly hope your newsrooms take a bit more care in preparing the material you distribute to your audience!

    A Journalist’s Oath.. I think the comments section shows that a committment to more care is in fact needed.

  2. Bill Moyers isn’t a journalist. He’s a propagandist for the left wing like Rush Limbaugh is for the right wing. The only difference is that Rush is more successful.

    As for licensing journalists, which is what you’re talking about here, why bother? Good journalists take pride in their independence … their separation from influence be it from the government or business.

    The only people who will register as journalists will be PR hacks and lobbyists (think Clint Reilly and his skinny blonde wife (I can’t remember her name but she’s an appointee on the GG bridge district board who voted to raise the toll).

    The oath will be taken by fakers and the real journalists will abstain.

  3. From the author.

    Please feel free to comment about the idea on my site as well and to take a close look at the full article.

    The idea of a journalist’s oath or pledge is that it would not be made to any person or organization.

    Instead, it would be a personal committment “made in concord with all journalists of goodwill and integrity” and upheld “In obedience to the dictates of my own conscience.”

    It is an idea that I believe is worthy of discussion. I used Bill Moyer’s comment as a starting off point. He made no reference whatsoever to any specifics in the speach that contained the comment.

    Tha launguage of such a pledge or oath is something open for discussion.

    The wonderful quote from a work of fiction by Finley Peter Dunne, “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” is nice, but I see the oath as being about separating out facts from opinion and not about driving any particular social, economic or cultural agenda.. other than that of the best ideals of journalism.

    Mel Baker

  4. and what happens if a journalist refuses to take the oath? no access to news conferences? no press pass?

    and who decides if an oath has been violated? and how is that punished?

  5. and what happens if a journalist refuses to take the oath? no access to news conferences? no press pass?

    and who decides if an oath has been violated? and how is that punished?

  6. I am skeptical of the value of a journalist’s oath– especially coming as it does from a suggestion by Bill Moyers, a demagogue of the profession, who neither asked the most important questions in the lead-up to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq nor yet asks the most important ones afterwards. (People fed with establishment news only think so.)

    From a psychoanalytical perspective, I find it curious that oaths might be alluring just now when it is painfully obvious that so many of our government representatives have failed to uphold theirs to our Constitution.

    That said– maybe there is good in this idea– from a blogger who says he is also a working journalist.

    Maybe his oath could include something about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

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