Wag The Dog Film Challenge

The 1997 film Wag The Dog tells the story of individuals from the White House using Hollywood filmmakers to construct a war to win the public’s favor in order to re-elect the president. The film addresses the journalistic issue of media manipulation.

One side of the argument says that constructing false news stories is wrong and that the media is responsible for presenting the world and news exactly as it. Another side of the argument says that the media constructs story because the media constructs the reality as we see it. In the key concepts for media literacy the first concept states, “All media are constructions. This is arguably the most important concept. The media do not simply reflect external reality. Rather, they present carefully crafted constructions that reflect many decisions and are the result of many determining factors. Media Literacy works towards deconstructing these constructions”. This side of the argument says that constructing stories are apart of creating the world as we see it.

There have been many cases of the media being manipulated. For example, In a 2005 article by the New York Times it discussed how the federal government was creating news segments for local TV news stations. The article stated, “In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government’s role in their production”.

If I was a “fixer” for the president of the United States and he wanted me to manipulate the media and create a war to win the public’s favor I don’t think I would be able to do it. Physically I believe I could make it happen, probably not as easy as the movie made it look but I believe it could be done. But emotionally I would be far too afraid of what the media could actually accomplish by faking a war. Media manipulation is not simply reporting history, but it is creating history- which to me is not what the media is built for.

Before this film I would not have thought media manipulation was a big issue for journalism. But after our class discussion and research into media manipulation I am very terrified of how big and how current of an issue this is for journalism. News stories provided by any source- whether it is the government or a big corporation, any story created by an outside source is inherently bias. And presenting that news as unbiased and not stating where that news comes from damages media outlets credibility and loses the public’s trust in journalism.


Media Literacy Key Concepts

New York Times Media Manipulation

Smash His Camera

In the documentary film Smash His Camera, the ethical issue of privacy in photojournalism is brought up. The film, which details the life of infamous paparazzo Ron Galella, addresses the issue of privacy when it pertains to public figures. Galella made a lucrative career out of photographing public figures- even when they did not want to be photographed- but many have criticized him for not respecting privacy. But do public figures have the same right to privacy as ordinary citizens?

One side of the argument states that Galella is perfectly within his rights to photograph public figures while they are out in public, even if they do not wished to be photographed. This argument says that because they are public figures and of interest to the public then it is perfectly acceptable to take their picture, because public is public. The other side of the argument says that why do public figures not have the same right to privacy as everyone else? It also argues that by not respecting public figures privacy, photographers are putting them in harms way.

Historical perspective on this case has often favored the public figure’s side of the argument. In California a law was passed in 2013 that makes it a crime, punishable by a year in jail and a $10,000 fine, for anyone to harass a celebrity’s child to take a picture, even in a public place (USA Today). Another anti-paparazzi law was signed in California in 2011. This law permits lawsuits against media-outlets that pay for and make first use of material they knew was improperly obtained (Huffington Post).

When it comes to paparazzi and public figures, there is really no great answer to solve the problem of invasion of privacy. While I agree with one side that because they are public figures then they do have to give up some of their privacy, I also agree with the other side that paparazzi often go too far in their quest to capture photos. I believe that the solution to this issue is at the hand of the media outlets. If the media outlets did not pay such hefty amounts for the photos of celebs then the desire to become a paparazzo would decrease- and in turn decrease the amount of harassing done to the public figures.

The ramification of this issue on journalism is severe. The laws passed in California are placing limits on the freedom of the press and the first amendment. If this issue gets larger and more and more public figures express outrage over their loss of privacy then the laws could become larger- placing more restrictions on the press as a whole. In order to save the rights of the press, the issue of privacy and public figures must be resolved in a way that benefit both sides.

Shattered Glass

Shattered Glass addresses the ethical issue of fabricating stories in journalism. The movie tells the story of Stephen Glass, a young reporter for The New Republic who was found to have fabricated or partially fabricated over half of his stories. In the movie Stephens editor was portrayed as not standing behind Stephen when his story began to come under fire, but should he have? Is it his editor’s job to protect the magazine or his reporters?

One side of the argument states that Stephen’s editor should have stood behind Stephen when Forbes called about the story, asserting that he trusted his reporter and his story. This side of the argument says that editors should always have inherent trust in their reporters- until that is broken. Another side of the argument says that Chuck was correct in questioning the story and Stephen right off the bat. This side argues that Chuck’s job first and foremost is to protect the magazine and to immediately question and investigate every suspicious and questionable piece of information that comes through. This argument believes that if Chuck were to immediately stand by Stephen he would not be doing his job as an editor of the magazine. This follows the ethical framework of Utilitarianism- that harm of one person is acceptable for the betterment of the group. Chuck was acting for the betterment of the entire magazine, not just Stephen.

There have unfortunately been many cases of reporters fabricating stories throughout the year. Janet Cooke, a reporter for the Washington Post famously fabricated a story about an 8-year old heroin addict. In a report by Bill Green in the Washington Post, describing how “Jimmy’s World” came to be published he blamed the trust of the editor in the reporter. “The jugular of journalism lay exposed — the faith an editor has to place in a reporter.” Because of Cooke’s editors trust in her her sources were never questioned or her story doubted. And because of that trust there was less checking then there should have been in this story. If her editors had done their job to the paper like they were supposed to, the story would have never ran and the whole situation could have been avoided.

If I were in this situation, if I were in Chuck’s position, I believe I would have handled it much the same as he did. I believe Chuck was correct in questioning Stephen right away. Publications are defined by their trustworthiness, and the responsibility of that trust falls onto the editors and the reporters. This may just be because I am a cynical person, but I think it is always important to double check your facts and not say you are sure of someone, or a story, until you are actually sure.

Sadly, fabrication has had a large impact on journalism. This is in part due from journalist’s own drive to win Pulitzers and the publics increasing demand for entertainment instead of facts. Journalist now write to achieve an emotion from their readers instead of just telling the facts, they are no longer reporters but storytellers. This demand from the public has caused journalist to stretch their quotes and sources- even make them up entirely- just to get more attention to their article. Journalism needs to take a step back from sensationalism, and in turn receive a step back from fabrication.



Intro To Journalism Ethics Lecture

Bill Green Article’s%20World.htm

Jimmys World

Shattered Glass Movie

Nothing But The Truth

Nothing But the Truth brings up the journalistic issue of confidential sources and refusing to reveal those sources when called upon by the government or court of law. The main character in the movie, Rachel, uses a confidential source to break a story on the government attacking Venezuela for an attempted assassination attack on the United State’s president despite intelligence from a CIA secret agent that Venezuela was not to blame. When called upon by a grand jury Rachel refuses to give up her confidential source- and is jailed. Rachel says that by refusing to reveal her source she is protecting her credibility and ethics as a journalist but in the meantime her home life, and the life of the CIA agent whose identity she revealed, unravels.

One side argues Rachel is doing her duty as a credible journalist by refusing to reveal the anonymous source. As the SPJ Code of Ethics states, “Be cautious when making promises, but keep the promises they make.” Rachel is following her code of ethics by keeping the promise she made to her source (no matter how miniscule the promise seemed). The other side argues that the information of the CIA leaker is national security and that anyone who reveals state secrets is a threat to our nation and should be prosecuted as such.

While Rachel’s case was fictional, there have been real life historical cases that face the same dilemma of confidential sources. In Branzburg v. Hayes, reporter Branzburg, who was working on a story on drug use, was called in front of state grand juries that were investigating the drug crimes. Branzburg refused to testify and disclose the identities of his confidential sources. Similarly, in the companion case of In re Pappas a reporter covering the Black Panther organization was called to testify before a grand jury and reveal confidential information from the Black Panther meetings. Like Branzburg, Pappas refused to appear before the grand jury. In both cases the court found that requiring reporters to disclose confidential information to grand juries served a “compelling” and “paramount” state interest and did not violate the First Amendment.

From my point of view, I believe this situation could have been handled with far fewer casualties. While I respect Rachel for sticking to her ethics, I would have never used the little girl as source in the first place. Yes, the girl did tell a very interesting secret, albeit unknowingly, but I would have just used that information as an anonymous tip and gone from there. Gathering more evidence from different outside sources and building my story on more substantial knowledge. And if called upon about my anonymous tip- I would have told the truth to avoid the disastrous aftermath.

The issue of confidential sources is an important topic to journalist today. While Rachel’s story is fictional, it is based on the very real story of Judith Miller and other journalist who go to jail over confidential sources. Journalist need to understand that there are bigger threats out there than just libel suits when writing stories, and unlike Rachel, should be aware that there is more to worry about than whether or not this defames someone.

Source List:

Nothing But The Truth

Absence of Malice

Absence of Malice tackles several journalistic legal and ethical issues through its main character, Megan, actions. One of the overlying issues in the film is libel. Megan wrote a story about an investigation into Michael Gallagher and this story caused Gallagher’s life to unravel. This story came from information inside a government file that she was leaked, but was it true? Did Megan commit libel because her piece damaged Michael’s life or is she protected because she was absent of malice?

One side of the argument says that Megan did not commit libel because she did not publish with fault. She had no intention of ruining Gallagher’s reputation and was reporting what she believed to the best of her knowledge to be the truth. The other side of the argument says that Megan did commit libel by being negligent in her reporting because she only had one source, she did not fact check, and she only reached out to Gallagher once.

Historic cases on libel have ruled decidedly on a case-by-case basis. In the Gertz v. Robert Welch Inc. (1973) case a lawyer Gertz was suing a magazine for publishing defamatory things about his character. Similarly to Michael Gallagher, this case was about a private citizen and his protection from libel. The rulings found that ordinary citizens should be allowed more protection from libelous statements than individuals in the public eye. Another historical case on libel was Hurst v. Capital Cities Media (2001). Hurst sued Capital Cities Media for reporting he was being questioned for a murder he was eventually cleared from. The court held that when the media truthfully reports information given by public officials that places a person in false light, even if the information proves to be false, the media is not at fault so long as the reporting was accurate.

From a young journalist point of view who has just finished learning about libel-and is terrified- I would have done things Megan. Of course I would have read the file, but I would have done my fact checking before I put it into print. I would have tried to contact more sources inside the justice department and I definitely would have tried harder to contact Gallagher. I would have made sure I covered this story from both sides and that each side had a voice.

Although this movie was released in 1981, Libel is still very much an issue that haunts journalist today. Journalist always have in the back of their mind- could I get sued for this? And that makes for better reporters. Reporters who fear libel will fact check their work, use multiple sources, and always present their story from straight down the middle. Libel is a scary issue, but a good issue for journalism.

Source List:

Absence of Malice

Libel Defenses Lecture Video

Libel Lecture Video

Film Challenge: All The President’s Men

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were amazing journalists, but throughout the process of getting the Watergate story they cut a lot of corners and their ethics were called into question. So were they ethical?

In order to get their story, and sometimes get their sources to talk they didn’t always reveal the whole truth of the story they were writing, for example telling sources they were writing a profile in order to get information. Is this completely truthful? No. But they still clearly identified themselves as reporters for the Washington Post and that they were working on a story. According to the SPJ Code of Ethics, “Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.” In this case, if Woodward and Bernstein had revealed that they were working on a story tracing illegal activity to president Nixon they would not have received the vital information to the public to make this story happen.

The use of an anonymous source has also called Woodward and Bernstein’s ethics into question, but take into consideration the case of Bradley Manning, who was sentenced 35 years for releasing military documents to the public. If Woodward and Bernstein had released the identity of Deep Throat would he also be labeled as an enemy of the state and sentenced to prison? Deep throat set the precedent for anonymous sources, and the use is still as controversial to journalism as ever before.

While Woodward and Bernstein often teetered the line of ethics, there were times they seemed to slip towards the wrong side. Most of the sources (those who actually talked to Woodward and Bernstein) seemed very nervous and fearful. It was obvious when Bernstein invited himself into that woman’s home she was scared and uncomfortable that he was there. It seemed that Woodward was breaking the SPJ Code of Ethics “Do No Harm” by harassing his sources for information, when they obviously did not want to give anything up.

While Woodward and Bernstein’s methods were controversial, so was their topic. And sometimes the best way to fight fire is with fire. So yes the line between ethical and none ethical was sometimes blurred, but all in all I believe I would have handled this story the same way Woodward and Bernstein did, although I would definitely use an audio recorder.

Not only was the use of anonymous sources and harassing sources a controversial topic then, it still is today. And today it seems now more than ever anonymous sources have been thrown into the spotlight. But the problem with anonymous sources is not that they are anonymous- but that how should we trust our journalist that this anonymous source is in fact a real live source? Too many journalist- think Jayson Blair- quote unnamed sources that turn out to be completely fabrication. The issue does not lie in anonymous sources, but the credibility of our journalist.


Source List

Top plagiarism scandals: Journalists who borrowed stories, made up sources. (2012, March 20). Retrieved February 3, 2015, from

Society of Professional JournalistsImproving and protecting journalism since 1909. (n.d.). Retrieved February 3, 2015, from
Bradley Manning sentenced to 35 years in WikiLeaks case. (2013, August 21). Retrieved February 3, 2015, from