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The Ethics Of Journalism Post by :luanaflacco Category :Essays Author :Oscar Wilde Date :December 2010 Read :2713

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The Ethics Of Journalism


(Pall Mall Gazette, September 20, 1894.)

To the Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette.

SIR,--Will you allow me to draw your attention to a very interesting example of the ethics of modern journalism, a quality of which we have all heard so much and seen so little?

About a month ago Mr. T. P. O'Connor published in the Sunday Sun some doggerel verses entitled 'The Shamrock,' and had the amusing impertinence to append my name to them as their author. As for some years past all kinds of scurrilous personal attacks had been made on me in Mr. O'Connor's newspapers, I determined to take no notice at all of the incident.

Enraged, however, by my courteous silence, Mr. O'Connor returns to the charge this week. He now solemnly accuses me of plagiarising the poem he had the vulgarity to attribute to me. {1}

This seems to me to pass beyond even those bounds of coarse humour and coarser malice that are, by the contempt of all, conceded to the ordinary journalist, and it is really very distressing to find so low a standard of ethics in a Sunday newspaper.--I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,

September 18.


(Pall Mall Gazette, September 25, 1894.)

To the Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette.

SIR,--The assistant editor of the Sunday Sun, on whom seems to devolve the arduous duty of writing Mr. T. P. O'Connor's apologies for him, does not, I observe with regret, place that gentleman's conduct in any more attractive or more honourable light by the attempted explanation that appears in the letter published in your issue of today. For the future it would be much better if Mr. O'Connor would always write his own apologies. That he can do so exceedingly well no one is more ready to admit than myself. I happen to possess one from him.

The assistant editor's explanation, stripped of its unnecessary verbiage, amounts to this: It is now stated that some months ago, somebody, whose name, observe, is not given, forwarded to the office of the Sunday Sun a manuscript in his own handwriting, containing some fifth-rate verses with my name appended to them as their author. The assistant editor frankly admits that they had grave doubts about my being capable of such an astounding production. To me, I must candidly say, it seems more probable that they never for a single moment believed that the verses were really from my pen. Literary instinct is, of course, a very rare thing, and it would be too much to expect any true literary instinct to be found among the members of the staff of an ordinary newspaper; but had Mr. O'Connor really thought that the production, such as it is, was mine, he would naturally have asked my permission before publishing it. Great licence of comment and attack of every kind is allowed nowadays to newspapers, but no respectable editor would dream of printing and publishing a man's work without first obtaining his consent.

Mr. O'Connor's subsequent conduct in accusing me of plagiarism, when it was proved to him on unimpeachable authority that the verses he had vulgarly attributed to me were not by me at all, I have already commented on. It is perhaps best left to the laughter of the gods and the sorrow of men. I would like, however, to point out that when Mr. O'Connor, with the kind help of his assistant editor, states, as a possible excuse for his original sin, that he and the members of his staff 'took refuge' in the belief that the verses in question might conceivably be some very early and useful work of mine, he and the members of his staff showed a lamentable ignorance of the nature of the artistic temperament. Only mediocrities progress. An artist revolves in a cycle of masterpieces, the first of which is no less perfect than the last.

In conclusion, allow me to thank you for your courtesy in opening to me the columns of your valuable paper, and also to express the hope that the painful expose of Mr. O'Connor's conduct that I have been forced to make will have the good result of improving the standard of journalistic ethics in England.--I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,

WORTHING, September 22.

{1} The verses called 'The Shamrock' were printed in the Sunday Sun, August 5, 1894, and the charge of plagiarism was made in the issue dated September 16, 1894.

(The end)
Oscar Wilde's essay: Ethics of Journalism

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