Ask Ms. Politico: ‘They Did What?!’

FishbowlDC has obtained an 11-page internal handbook handed out to Politico reporters about a week ago. It’s called “The Right Thing to Do: Ethics at Politico.” Those who didn’t do the “right thing” in the past year and a half include Joe Williams, who was dismissed for racially tinged Twitter rantings and TV commentary, but allowed to stay until he found another job while finishing up probation for assaulting his ex-wife and Kendra Marr, who was fired for plagiarism. In an effort to share some of the more golden nuggets of wisdom with journalists in Washington and beyond, we’re turning it into an advice column for as long as it takes us to get through it. In short, we figure we’ll drag this harangue out as long as humanly possible. Enjoy!

Note to Readers: The questions will be the stupid and smart ones we concoct. The answers will be actual quotations from Politico‘s internal manual. And if any of you have questions you’d like answered, we’re sure the Politico ethics handbook addresses them, so send them our way at or to

Q: What do we do when confronted with a decision or problem relating to ethics? Does this ever happen to you Ms. Politico? Do you feel our pain?

Read on for Ms. Politico’s response…

Ms. Politico: “A simple question, but one that, in this era of radical transition for journalism and the standards that traditionally sustained our profession, is often not simple to answer. Sometimes, ethical questions smack us over the head, as when someone on staff does something that causes editors to ask, “They did what?” Usually the explanation is that the person was not even aware that he or she was treading on dangerous ground or stepping across a important line. … It is not just less experienced staffers who can be flummoxed, however. Those of us in leadership positions routinely face situations where our old certitudes about right and wrong do little to illuminate choices we face as we build a new publication in a new media landscape. Simply put, the road has more hazards and fewer guardrails than it did when a lot of us got started — a time before the nonstop news cycle and imperatives for speed and impact created by the Web, before Facebook pages, before cable networks routinely put print reporters on TV to talk about their stories…this document is not intended to anticipate every issue, much less lay down the law with an answer for every situation. It is intended as a navigational aid, a beacon about this publication’s basic values and how they might apply in situations that come up often, both in the newsroom and on the business team. Not all the questions we grapple with below relate to journalistic ethics… some are just rules of the road that reflect the particular personality and ambitions of POLITICO — the kind of place we want to be and the values we want to flourish here. Let me stress that these rules are merely guidelines. They are not hard and fast rules — we encourage flexibility. But if you are considering deviating from them, we want you to discuss it with your manager — before you wander outside the borders.”

Stay tuned for more Ms. Politico…