SPJ, Others Blast Cincy Tea Party Deal (Updated)

(UPDATE AT BOTTOM) Fox News commentator Sean Hannity’s participation in a Cincinnati Tea Party event today is drawing sharp criticism from experts on journalism ethics.

Hannity will be taping his TV show tonight during the local Tea Party’s second annual Tax Day rally, which is being held at the University of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena.—-

Admission is being charged to attend the event. The cost is $5 for the general public and $20 for “premium reserved seating by the Hannity show,” according to the Tea Party’s Web site.

In an article by Joe Strupp for the Media Matters Web site, the president of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) criticizes the deal, stating it’s unethical that a news show that regularly covers the Tea Party movement would seek to raise money for the event during a production of the show.

"Unequivocally, from our standpoint, this is wrong," SPJ President Kevin Smith told Media Matters. "For a news organization to charge people for access, then take that money and roll it over to a political action group that they cover quite a bit."

Smith continued, "It has gotten to the point where you cannot delineate between Fox News and the Tea Party movement — it is incestuous. There is a clear conflict of interest here."

Smith wasn’t alone in his assessment. Several journalism experts also criticized the arrangement.

"If the job of a news organization is to present the facts in an unbiased way and if Fox is charging people to raise money for a political cause, then they are undermining their mission to be fair and balanced," National Public Radio ombudsman Alicia Shepard told Media Matters. "Is Sean Hannity's mission to be fair and balanced or to be a pundit with a political bent? It is clearly new territory."

Frank Sesno, an ex- CNN Washington correspondent who now is director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, said, "It violates virtually every rule of every ethical guideline that journalism covers. The idea that you would support a (political) movement and ask your audience to pay for it."

Hannity’s guests during tonight’s taping will be actor Jon Voight and Joe the (not quite a) Plumber.

UPDATE: Fox News executives canceled the event due to the controversy. “Fox News never agreed to allow the Cincinnati Tea Party organizers to use Sean Hannity’s television program to profit from broadcasting his show from the event," Bill Shine, the network’s executive vice president of programming, told The Los Angeles Times.