Buffalo Beast Editor Criticized by SPJ after Hoaxing Wis. Gov with Prank Call

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The Buffalo Beast posted recordings of its phone call with Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Buffalo Beast editor Ian Murphy posed as David Koch. Murphy wrote that "What you are about to witness is real. No names have been changed to protect the innocent." However, Murphy used someone else's name in order to get the recording. (Credit: Buffalo Beast)

As has been widely reported, Buffalo Beast editor Ian Murphy posed as Koch Industries’ executive vice president David Koch in a hoax phone call with Wisconsin governor Scott Walker.

According to the Journal-Sentinel, “Koch Industries’ political action committee was one of the biggest financial supporters of Walker’s gubernatorial campaign last fall, giving $43,000 to his political fund.”

On its website, the Beast explains it was “founded in 2002 by Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, his eXile comrade Kevin McElwee and Buffalo attorney Paul Fallon, as a free biweekly newspaper.”  In 2009, it became web-only, and Murphy is its editor.

Murphy explained to the Washington Post that he used Skype to call the governor’s office and “joked with [a governor’s aide] that my maid Maria threw my phone in the washing machine, and that I’d have her deported but she works for almost nothing.  So I told them it wasn’t really possible for them to call me back and I better call him.”

After Walker’s aide put the governor on the phone, Murphy talked with Walker for about twenty minutes while he posed as Koch. And then, he posted the conversation on the Beast’s website (here) under the headline “Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Answers his Master’s Call.”

As EditorsWeblog described the conversation, Walker’s comments were “reflections and strategies for dealing with protesting union workers and trying to lure Democrats boycotting the state Senate back to Wisconsin.”  However, EditorsWeblog questioned if it’s fair to “simply classify this as a prank.”

According to the Washington Post, Walker’s statement on the phone call claims that the governor “maintained his appreciation for and commitment to civil discourse. … The phone call shows that the governor says the same thing in private as he does in public and the lengths that others will go to disrupt the civil debate Wisconsin is having.”

In a press conference, Walker commented, according to the Journal-Sentinel, “I take phone calls all the time. Now I’m not going to allow one crank phone call to be a distraction. The reality is we have a job to do. And the job is to debate this bill.”

Koch Industries senior vice president, Mark Holden, stated “The caller was not David Koch and we have no further response to this fraudulent act at this time.”

SPJ Weighs In

The Society of Professional Journalists weighed in on the phone call.  In a press release posted on its website, the journalists group wrote:

“The Society of Professional Journalists, through its Ethics Committee, strongly condemns the actions of an alternative online outlet this week when an editor lied and posed as a financial backer in a recorded phone call with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.”

The SPJ further criticized the Beast’s phone call: “Though the Buffalo Beast purports to be an alternative news site with heavily slanted views that are neither fair nor objective, the fact remains that this interview was underhanded and unethical. Credible news organizations should be cautious about how they report this already widely reported story, and must realize that the information was obtained in a grossly inappropriate manner according to longstanding tenets of journalism.”

Both SPJ’s ethics committee co-chairperson Kevin Z. Smith and SPJ president Hagit Limor issued statements on the phone call.  Smith is quoted as saying:

“This tactic and the deception used to gain this information violate the highest levels of journalism ethics. To lie to a source about your identity and then to bait that source into making comments that are inflammatory is inexcusable and has no place in journalism.”

Limor commented: “This may be how Hollywood portrays reporters, but no journalist worth his salt ever would misrepresent his name and affiliation when seeking an interview. Murphy should be ashamed not only of his actions but of besmirching our profession by acting so shamelessly.”

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Buffalo Beast Editor Criticized by SPJ after Hoaxing Scott Walker with Prank Call

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