John Van de Kamp, the current ethics advisor for the city of Vernon, California, claims he was misled into being interviewed and featured in a two-page advertisement that ran in three Los Angeles area newspapers. Van de Kamp stated that he believed he was being interviewed for a newspaper story, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Van de Kamp, who is also a former California attorney general, called the advertisement as “a plum piece for Vernon,” the town for which he is ethics advisor.
According to the Los Angeles Times, two Los Angeles assemblymen are trying to end Vernon’s status as a city. By bringing in Van de Kamp, Vernon is trying to “stave off” the bill. A 2010 LAist.com article noted that Vernon only has a population of “about 95 residents” and the bill would make it so cities with “fewer than 150 residents” lose city status.
Van de Kamp objected to his being used in the advertisement because he sees his position as ethics advisor not as one to “flak for the city.”
The advertisement was published in the Pasadena Star-News, the Long Beach Press-Telegraph and the LA Daily News. See the ad here. The Society of Professional Journalist’s code of ethics advises that journalists “distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.” From the advertisement posted on the Pasadena Star-News’ website, it’s not clear if the feature on Vernon with Van de Kamp’s interview is labeled as an advertisement, but we’re writing to the newspaper to ask.
The interview was conducted by freelance writer Edward Barrera, who told the Los Angeles Times that he “never identified himself as a reporter to Van De Kamp, and that he assumed that everything had been explained to him prior to the call.”
“The miscommunication certainly wasn’t on my end,” Barrera reportedly said.
Journalist and author Norman Pearlstine advocates in his book “Off the Record” that “reporters and editors should routinely identify themselves and their news organization and state the purpose of their call.” Likewise, the San Antonio Express-News’ ethics code calls on its journalists to identify themselves as such.
Van de Kamp described his reaction to seeing the advertisement: “I thought, ‘Good grief.’ I saw the print and thought, ‘That doesn’t look like a regular article.'”
According to Van de Kamp, city administrator Mark Whitworth asked Van de Kamp to do the interview. The city’s media consultant, Fred MacFarlane, reportedly had “suggested” Van de Kamp’s participation but now has concluded it wasn’t a good idea. MacFarlane reportedly said he intends to apologize to Van de Kamp.
Read more on the Los Angeles Times website here.
iMediaEthics is writing to Barrera, Whitworth and Van de Kamp for comment and will update with any response.