If the ethics of journalists are to be examined as much as possible, it is only through self-policing. The long-running issue of conflict of interest, especially when writing about topics where one has prior work experience, is usually settled by disclosing the work you have done, and hoping that, through that acknowledgement, one's credibility will remain intact. However, as is evidenced today by Twitter's outing of national security journalist Joshua Foust as a contractor for the federal government, things can get pretty nasty when someone accuses another of being unethical.
The story begins with Sam Knight of Truthout and the Washington Monthly accusing Joshua Foust, who currently edits web publication Medium's State of Play blog, of conflict of interest stemming from his work as a Defense Department contractor.
Amazing how "journalist" @joshuafoust feels above ethics norms by consistently failing to disclose ties (past, for sure) to DOD contractors.— Sam Knight (@samknight1) August 22, 2013
While it is acceptable for Foust to work in the field or the DoD, industry practice (and federal law) dictates that any ties to an industry a journalist is reporting on must be disclosed to the public as an aside to any article written. Knight's tweet was then retweeted by influential journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has been in the news for other reasons partially related to this.
Before Foust got into it, Charles Johnson of popular blog Little Green Footballs immediately responded to the accusation by pointing to Foust's bio, which has a section explaining his government background:
Foust denied the accusations, as well as the accusation that he took money from the government, accusing Knight of libel in the process. However, Kade of Privacy SOS then responded with a more blatant accusation: That Foust was still active as a government contractor through consulting services. Proof? Foust's LinkedIn page showed he was available to work with "government entities:"
A firestorm erupted between Knight and Johnson, consequently, while Foust surreptitiously removed the "government entities" reference from the LinkedIn page, and stepped out of the conversation. However, a cached version of the page from August 5 proves that he plied his services to the federal government as a freelance consultant since the beginning of 2013. This does not necessarily mean he has actually worked with the federal government. However, both Knight and Kade have pushed Foust to explain what work he has done with the federal government, if any, and the latter has been unresponsive.
If Foust indeed accepted work from the federal government in recent months, that would be a serious breach of ethics, and a severe loss to his credibility, since he has refused to disclose his work previously. Foust could settle the matter by clarifying his recent freelance work, but whether he chooses to do so remains to be seen. We have reached out to Evan Williams, chief of Medium, for comment, and have yet to receive a response as of press time.
(Media sources: Google+: Sam Knight, Flickr: Joi Ito)