Political communication ethics books, articles, syllabi, and professional codes of conduct

Researchers, writers, students, and professors are increasingly turning their attention to the question of what, if any, ethical responsibility political communication professionals have, and to whom or what they have those responsibilities. Below is a selection of books, articles, and syllabi. Please let us know if you have ideas for other resources we should consider including.


Edited by Robert E. Denton, Jr.

Praeger 2000, 288 pages

From the publisher: “This essay collection examines ethical concerns related to the traditional areas of political communication, including campaigns, media, discourse, and advertising, as well as new technologies, including the Internet. In total, the collection provides one of the few volumes to examine political ethics from an academic perspective rather than from a moralistic or rule orientation.”


Edited by Edited by Candice J. Nelson, David A. Dulio, and Stephen K. Medvic

Brookings 2004, 262 pages

From the publisher: “To many, the term “campaign ethics” is an oxymoron. Questionable campaign conduct occurs at many levels, from national presidential elections to local delegate contests. Campaign ethics goes beyond mere “ethical dilemmas,” or trying to decide whether or not a particular act is above board. “


Edited by Robert Denton, Jr.

Praeger 1991, 264 pages

From the publisher: “This unique study is the first to focus specifically on political communication ethics. Denton has brought together a group of works that address ethical concerns related to political communication, including political culture, campaigns, media, advertising, ghostwriting, discourse, politicians, and new technologies. All of the contributors raise a number of salient questions and discuss various methods, criteria, and issues for exploring and addressing ethical concerns.”


“Ethical Considerations of Political Campaign Communication” from Political campaign communication: Principles and practices Ninth edition / ROBERT E. DENTON JR., JUDITH S. TRENT AND ROBERT V. FRIEDENBERG. rowman & littlefield 2019

“Political communication ethics:Postmodern opportunities and challenges” FROM The handbook of communication ethics / edited by George Cheney, Steve May, Debashish Munshi. Routledge 2011.

“Emerging Ethics of Digital Political Strategists” FROM Controversies in Digital Ethics / EdITED BY Amber Davisson, Paul Booth. Bloomsbury Academic 2016.

Can Running an Ethical Campaign Help You Win?

Sean Miller, Campaigns and Elections, September 6, 2019

You don’t have to look far in the campaign industry to find questionable strategic and business practices, but a practitioner-turned-academic is hoping to start an “ethical campaign movement.”

Political professionals have duty to uphold our constitutional republic

Peter Loge, The Hill, November 30, 2017

“Those of us who work in politics have obligations to the political system. This system, our constitutional republic, is a bold experiment in governance that demands respect and needs nurturing to survive. Our system succeeds or fails based on how those of us in system behave, and we need to behave better.”

More complicated than he thinks

David Murray, Editor, Vital Speeches of the Day, September 20, 2017

“Whether you're a press secretary or a speechwriter, when you admit to lying to the public on behalf of your clients, "you lose the right to get huffy about your integrity," as Frum puts it.”

#1: The Art and Ethics of Political Speechwriting, Part 1 - Bob Lehrman (Podcast)

The Swagmen, May 14, 2017

“Bob Lehrman was Chief Speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore from 1993-95. An accomplished author and novelist, he was mentored by none other than Kurt Vonnegut. Bob's book, The Political Speechwriters Companion: A Guide for Speakers and Writers, is acclaimed by both the left and right of politics.

The Swagmen chat with Bob about life in the White House, Obama's best speeches, and how you can persuade audiences using time-honoured rhetorical techniques.”

#2: The Art and Ethics of Political Speechwriting, Part 2 - Don Watson (PODCAST)

The Swagmen, May 18, 2017

Don Watson was Prime Minister Paul Keating's speechwriter from 1992-1996. Don's work included the Unknown Soldier Speech, and the famous Redfern Park Address, the writing of which he described in his biography of the Keating era, Recollections of a Bleeding Heart. Don is also an award-winning author and an academic historian.

The Swagmen meet Don in Melbourne to discuss what's gone wrong with the use of language in Australian public life, why key differences exist between US and Australian political rhetoric, and the real reason why he and Keating haven't spoken in 15 years.

Communication ethics: Principle and practice

Robert Beckett, Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 8, 2004

Communication ethics, this paper argues, is a discipline ready for application to communication management and is particularly relevant as we enter an “age of information”. With a moral foundation firmly set in the social and human sciences, communication ethics offers managers a means to face unpredictable futures with greater certainty and purpose. This paper outlines an approach in which all decision making and its communication are understood as having an ethical grounding. Such an application empowers managers to act with integrity across the spectrum of their varied communication roles: through management and internal communications, public affairs and marketing; in advertising, media and publishing, and in the use of information technology. Positioned independently from the professional bodies of communication, an interdisciplinary ethics offers practitioners skills and moral frameworks that can be shared across professions and used to compare and evaluate their practice. This paper concludes by presenting a model of communication ethics that individual managers can use to prescribe a more sensitive and dynamic human‐ethical environment.

Toward and Ethical Framework for Political Marketing

Nicholas O'Shaughnessy, Psychology and Marketing, November 21, 2002

This article seeks to focus and organize the public and academic debate on the ethics of political marketing by soliciting answers in the application of ethical theory. Principal ethical theories of interest to marketing and the particular illumination they lend to political marketing are discussed. Often the answer they yield is ambivalent (not least because ethical propositions can only be argued, never resolved). It is concluded that, although utilitarians and others tip the balance in favor of political marketing practice, the strength of the contractarian critique means there is no closure in this debate. © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Commentary ‐ Machiavelli, political marketing and reinventing government

Phil Harris, European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 35, 2001

“Niccolò Machiavelli is used as a guide to some of the key issues facing modern government and applies his insights into the effective management and development of civic society. Political marketing, good governance, lobbying, ethics and effective communication with the consumer is developed.”

The Ethics of Political Communication

Manuel Parés i Maicas, European Journal of Communication, December 1995

“Ethics of journalism (communication) has become an important issue because of the paramount role of the mass media in social life and their frequent bias. A vital aspect in this field is the ethics of political communication. This article analyses from an ethical perspective the main elements of the political communication process, e.g. the communicators, the receivers, the function of the mass media, the purpose and the content of political language. Any ethical analysis must take into account the law of communication and the fact that communication is a fundamental human right. The article concludes that it is difficult to set up a positive link between politics and ethics, nor, by the same token, is it feasible to conceive of political communication as being presided over by ethics.”

The ethics of political marketing practices, the rhetorical perspective

Steve Banker, Journal of Business Ethics, Vol 11 No 11, Nov 1992

Negative “attack ads” used in political campaigns have been attacked as being unethical because they contribute to voter cynicism and apathy and as being manipulative. From a rhetorical perspective these advertisements serve a positive societal function by creating alternative rhetorical visions that can contribute to the marketplace of ideas.

Political Communication Ethics

Taught by Peter Loge at The George Washington University. Spring 2019.

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics program in Government Ethics 

Materials prepared by Judy Nadler and Miriam Schulman at Santa Clara University. Updated in October 2015.