Five Questions about Ethics in Political Communication: Oren Shur


Oren Shur is a senior vice president and political director at the Washington, DC-based political consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker. Shur has extensive experience in political communication and political advertising, including serving as the director of paid media for Hillary for America in 2016. @OrenShur

1) To what ethical standard should political communication professionals be held? Where should political communication ethics be grounded?

I believe we should ground our ethical standards in political communications in the various audiences to whom (or what) we owe an ethical responsibility to . . . In my view, we have an ethical responsibility to: the public, the elected officials/candidates we work for and our democratic institutions (specifically: the media and our systems of voting). As political communications professionals, we should be honest, forthcoming and honorable in the ways we communicate to the public, with our elected officials/candidates and about our democratic institutions.

2) Why should someone in political communication behave ethically?

Because we, as political communication professionals, are entrusted to communicate with the public about their elected officials and their government – that’s a sacred responsibility. If the public losses faith in our democracy and the people who lead it and the institutions that protect it (and that’s damn near close to happening right now), everything else we enjoy about living in America will erode.

3) Can you give an example of ethical political communication? What can people point to and say “do more of that?”

It happens all the time. When an elected official tells the public something they may not want to hear, but they deserve to know. Or when a candidate condemns a lie that was designed to help them instead of repeating it or winking and turning a blind eye. Or when a spokesperson is asked to lie to the media and refuses to do so. Or when anyone in the field admits a mistake. Unfortunately, the instances of unethical conduct tend to get all the attention.  

4) Can you give an example of an ethical challenge or question you or political communication professionals in your field have faced or are likely to face?

On many occasions over the years, I believed that spinning the truth or withholding certain pieces of information would be in my candidates’ best political interest – and, there’s a fine line between running smart and savvy campaigns and being unethical. In my view, the key is having the wherewithal in those moments to hit pause – and consider whether you’re about to say or do something that you’ll feel good about long after Election Day. I’ve tried to do that and mostly feel good about the decisions I’ve made in those moments. Anyone who works in political communications should expect to find themselves in those situations time and time again.  

5) What advice about ethics do you have for people studying political communication or starting their careers in the field?

Your parents probably raised you to be a good, decent and honest person who treats others the right way – working in politics is not an excuse to abandon those lessons; it places a higher burden on you to honor them.