Friday, February 20, 2015

"Bitcoin" has created conflicts for journalists who cover it

Late last night, I recorded and then watched Morgan Spurlock’s rather colorful report on Bitcoin, which I covered on my TV blog earlier today, staying up late on a kind of “nightcall” (related to unusual weather), having earlier watched some important stuff on NBC.  The report “inadvertently” brought up some issues in my own fiction writing which I’ll get to at a later time, and let me, again through some crazy coincidence chains, to revisit my own past history with “conflict of interest” a book author and journalist now myself. “Morgan!” did me good (and I don’t mean the British 60s comedy movie).
In canvasing Spurlock’s coverage, I looked up the piece by Timothy B. Lee about Bitcoin back in September, 2014, as he used to tweet about the subject a lot.  Now, I don’t often write about people that I have interacted with personally much on the blogs – for one thing, I’m starting to make more contacts about how to market my “Do Ask,, Do Tell” screenplay material, starting to make some progress, so I really can’t go into what is going on in public forums.  No one in a comparable situation could.  But I did meet Tim when I was living in Minneapolis, in 1998, when he was starting as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota.  In time, he would help arrange one of my public lectures about my (first) DADT book, on the U campus.  That was an interesting and rewarding time of my life, nestled in the Churchill Apartments, with access to downtown on the Skyway – and a lot went on all the time there.
My own move to Minneapolis as of September, 1997 had occurred as a corporate transfer (to ReliaStar in downtown Minneapolis, on that same Skyway), somewhat under-the-table, out of my concern that, having published a book that dealt with gays in the military, I might have a serious conflict at the Arlington location where there was a large focus at my workplace in selling insurance to military officers.  Given the moral tone of the debate during the Clinton years, my making a living that way seemed double-edged, to say the least. (I’ve covered this tone in my recent postings about “free riders”).
There was controversy over “COI” regarding Tim’s coverage in Vox.   Let me say I was a bit surprised to discover the “Controversy” today;  I hadn’t heard about it before, or had missed it.  (The term “Investiture Controversy” from European history pops into mind, although the parallel isn’t that much.) The Washington Post, where he had worked before, had prohibited reporters from investing in the bitcoin market if they wrote about it.  Vox had first thought it was OK, and then apologized after the criticism.  Ezra Klein has an article about the matter September 5, 2014 on Vox here.  Erik Wemple reported on the matter in the Washington Post Sept. 5 here . I can let the articles speak for themselves on the details, but I personally would not have thought that this would be a problem, if someone owned a small holding. 

Yet, there are many ramifications for something like this coming up.  Most journalists and bloggers would own assets and securities of some kind.  Bitcoin is controversial, but so would, say, my past holdings in oil companies (or the ownership of a gas well by relatives in the past).  Imagine what the left wing could make of that if I worked for Vox and wrote about climate change.  What if I worked there and wrote about inherited trusts now?   So I don’t think that normal, well-distributed small holdings in anything lawful should themselves be viewed as creating a conflict of interest.
Back in 1996, a reporter in Tacoma, WA was assigned to copy-editing after publicity over her activism as a lesbian.  At the time, the Washington State supreme court argued that her activism could be perceived as compromising her “objectivity” as a reporter.  Other firings and transfers have occurred, such as with a reporter who volunteered with ACT UP.  

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