Ethical journalism requires that every effort be made to establish the veracity of potentially libelous and/or questionable accusations or statements before they are published. It is for this reason, that the average reader is able to trust that what they read is the truth.
In the August issue of The Chiropractic Journal, a letter to the editor was printed, presumably from a chiropractor in Los Angeles by the name of Robert Marsh. In this letter, Dr. Marsh made numerous allegations questioning the integrity of Dr. Louis Sportelli.
The basis of these allegations was Dr. Marsh's claim, "Reliable sources who attended the recent ACA convention in Alaska, were stunned to hear past and present ACA leaders privately admit that Dr. Louis Sportelli owns a controlling interest in Dynamic Chiropractic." The letter went on to allege that Dr. Sportelli is "secretly" trying to libel and destroy PMA.
Upon being made aware of these allegations, Dr. Sportelli attempted to contact Dr. Marsh personally to discuss their implications. His extensive search, which included the ACA, ICA, and Los Angeles telephone directories, proved fruitless. Ultimately, Dr. Sportelli contacted the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners.
A letter from Vivian Davis, executive director of the California Board confirmed Dr. Sportelli's suspicions by stating, "I do hereby certify that a thorough search of the above (official records reflecting chiropractors licensed to practice in California) shows that Dr. Robert Marsh of Los Angeles, California is not licensed to practice chiropractic in the state of California."
The fact that Dr. Marsh is not able to be located leads one to conjecture that he does not really exist. In a response to Dr. Marsh's letter, Dr. Sportelli wrote to Rodney K. Platt, editor of TCJ questioning the publication of the apparently fraudulent letter. In his letter, Dr. Sportelli stated, "The publication, which claims to be 'dedicated to fairness in communication' on its masthead, violated some cardinal rules of truth and propriety in its carrying of the so-called 'letter'; investigation points to the fact that the critical letter was probably a malicious concoction by the publication (The Chiropractic Journal) or parties unknown."
In reply to Dr. Sportelli's letter, Dr. Terry Rondberg, publisher of The Chiropractic Journal wrote: "After we received your letter, we confirmed that there is no known chiropractor by the name of Robert Marsh practicing in the Los Angeles area. Apparently, the person who wrote the letter and signed it with a false name had a strong opinion for which he was afraid to take responsibility. TCJ condemns such cowardice and deceit and requests that no doctor ever again engage in such outright deception."
Two very important questions need to be asked:
- Why was it so easy for a "fictitious" person to have a character-defaming letter printed in a chiropractic publication?
- What person or parties are actually involved in the defrauding of the chiropractic profession?
Other important elements of this code of ethics to which all journalists should adhere are:
"So-called news communications from private sources should not be published or broadcast without substantiation of their claims to news values.
"The news media should not communicate unoffical charges affecting reputation or moral character without giving the accused a chance to reply.
"Journalists who use their professional status as representatives of the public for selfish or other motives violate a high trust."
Letters to the editor in any professional publication must meet certain guidelines. Letters to the editor must be signed by the author, submitted on professional letterhead, and when serious implications are made, the author's existence should be verified. Futhermore, letters to the editor in which the authors ask that their "name be withheld by request" should follow these same guidelines even more stringently.
If the above guidelines had been met, this fraud against the chiropractic profession would not have occurred. A mere phone call by TCJ to Dr. Sportelli (or the California Secretary of State) would have revealed that "Dr. Marsh's" allegations were completely without basis in fact. As stated on page three of "DC," "Dynamic Chiropractic is the soley owned publication of the non-profit Motion Palpation Istitute."
It is highly unlikely that the person or persons who perpetrated this fraud against the chiropractic profession (by authoring the Marsh letter) will ever come forward and confess. The content of the Marsh letter demonstrates that these deceptors have a very specific agenda which they have already attempted to force upon the chiropractic profession. Should similar actions occur again, a watchful eye will be able to recognize them for what they truly are.
For the chiropractic profession, these are critical times. We need to be able to trust that what we read is the truth. Every publication in our profession must uphold the highest editorial standards in order to be perceived as credible.
According to The Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics, "Partisanship in editorial comment that knowingly departs from the truth, violates the spirit of American journalism."
Kelli M. Price
The press is good or evil according to the character of those who direct it. It is a mill that grinds all that is put into its hopper. Fill the hopper with poisoned grain and it will grind it to meal, but there is death in the bread.
William Cullen Bryant