Film Challenge #6

The manipulation done by Conrad Brean and Stanley Motss was an extreme scenario of how the media can shape our views and make us believe things that aren’t even true. They used the power of the media to create a fake war and distract Americans from the president’s sex scandal. None of them seemed to be bothered by the enormous lie they had formed. They saw it is the only way to do their job and help the president get re-elected. There wasn’t much concern about the ethical issues among the main characters, so could this be something that’s acceptable for people of power to do with the media?

What made the fake war seem so real was the manipulators’ ability to create actual events for people to see. Seeing footage from a war was not uncommon at the time. People who saw it just assumed it was real because it was on a news channel. Similarly, we saw an example of this in class when CNN televised a fake newscast of Carl Rochelle from the First Gulf War. Today we can tell that it’s fake, but back then, people may not have known about media manipulation or didn’t think that someone would actually do it. The movie’s manipulation was worse because that war didn’t even exist.

Brean and Motss were both manipulating the media for their own reasons. They believed that they had a job to do. Brean always treated the situation as if it was a task he needed to complete. He was hired by the White House to distract the American public, so that is what he set out to do, no question asked. Motss joined the team because he wanted to show what he could do as a producer. He set out to prove that he could make the war with Albania seem so real on camera that people would actually believe it. He also wanted some overdue credit for his work since he had never won any awards for his past movies.

While they had their own reasons that they thought were justified, what Brean and Motss did was wrong. The SPJ Code of Ethics states that journalists should “never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information. Clearly label illustrations and re-enactments.” Every piece of evidence of the “war” in Albania was done in a studio or faked. While they weren’t journalists themselves, they were controlling what was given to the media and distributed across the country while knowing that they were lying. Not only were they disobeying the rules of journalism, but they were also doing so to help keep a man in office that had a sex scandal. They infringed on the people’s ability to see who their president was and distracted them from what he had done.

Brean and Motss should never have manipulated the media to get the president re-elected. It didn’t allow the people to make in an informed decision on who they wanted running their country and lied to them completely, which is the opposite of the media’s real purpose. A story like this shows how deceiving the media can really be and instills a lack of trust among the population. It’s hard for people to tell what’s real anymore when the media that they rely on for news is being used to manipulate them into believing what a higher power wants them to. How can people 100 percent trust the media anymore, especially around election time?


Wag the Dog

Film Challenge #5

Ron Galella had an enormous impact on photojournalism and the role and perception of the paparazzi. His methods for obtaining quality photographs were uncanny, intrusive, and different from what anyone else was doing before him. Some people claimed that he was a nuisance and a creep, while others praise him because of the magnificent moments he captured, like his very famous photo of Jackie Kennedy Onassis with her hair blowing in the wind. So was it wrong for Galella to stalk these celebrities and invade their lives just to get candid pictures of them and sell them to magazines? Or was what he did actually okay?

Back in the 1960s, Ron Galella was one of a kind. There wasn’t an entire paparazzi culture that stalked the streets of New York and Los Angeles yet. He was known as they crazy guy who followed people around, which made him a target for criticism. His pictures got a lot of heat because of when he took them. Photos like the Falling Man from September 11th or the fireman holding the dying baby are seen as unethical and revealing because they show people when they are very vulnerable and can be openly identified and judged. While Galella’s photos weren’t graphic or disturbing, they were still controversial because he would sneak into venues or hide in places just to snap a “money shot”.

Many celebrities felt as if they were harassed by Galella. He would stake out in front of their houses, follow them in cars, and hide behind bushes and corners. While most of his pictures were taken in public, he was taking pictures of people in times that they felt like should be private, such as Jackie O playing with her son or Audrey Hepburn walking to a car in her driveway. The SPJ Code of Ethics states that we should “balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort.” The frequency of his actions made his subjects uneasy. He intentionally was pushing the boundaries of private and public for newsworthy pictures and it made people uncomfortable.

While what he did was unconventional and disruptive, Galella actually snapped hundreds upon thousands of great pictures. He felt as if he was just entertaining the public by showing them how celebrities lived. Andy Warhol was quoted saying “My idea of a good picture is one that’s in focus and of a famous person doing something unfamous…That’s why my favorite photographer is Ron Galella”. He helped show the world that celebrities were people too, and the only way to capture their true selves was to catch them off guard or in a place they felt safe. He thought he was doing us all a favor and acted very innocent.

I don’t think that Ron Galella’s style of photojournalism is very acceptable. Getting a great picture is not as important as respecting the privacy and comfort of people, whether they be in the public eye or not. The Code of Ethics says to minimize harm, and that means that you must try to be as least obtrusive as you possibly can, which he never did. His style is an extreme form of photojournalism and it really turned people off to the idea of the paparazzi. Those kinds of photographers are not and will never be as respected as other kinds of journalists or photojournalists because of Galella.


Smash His Camera (Lecture Slides)

Group 7 Real World Ethics Presentation

Our group will be discussing a situation involving TSN, a Canadian sports network, that displayed a tweet on their show saying that a Toronto Maple Leafs player was having an affair with a teammate’s wife. Many people blame the tweeter himself, while others including him blame TSN. We are not sure how we are going to interact with the class for our presentation yet. We will most likely use Prezi or Power Point.

Film Challenge #4

The story of Stephen Glass at The New Republic is a harsh blow to the credibility of journalists. Fabricating sources, let alone entire stories, goes against everything that journalism stands for. While something like this may have been more common and easier to get away with in the past, the Internet has made it nearly impossible to get away with something like this today. Glass was only 24 years old at the time and wanted nothing more than to be a successful journalist. However, his desired greatness and popularity caused him to do something he could not be forgiven for.

At the time of Glass’ employment at The New Republic, the Internet age was growing rapidly. People were able to find information just by searching it online instead of looking in printed records or searching through phone books to call people. More importantly, newsworthy information that didn’t appear online was suspicious. In a similar situation to Glass’, Jayson Blair, former writer for The New York Times, was caught fabricating stories a few years after Glass. However, he was initially caught for plagiarizing several pieces from other well-known papers. Glass wasn’t plagiarizing his stories, but he was susceptible to the Internet search. Forbes writer, Adam Penenberg’s keyword search led to the unveiling of Glass’ lies.

From Glass’ point of view, it seems as though he was under a lot of pressure as a young journalist. As stated in the beginning, the median age at The New Republic was 26. Most of his co-workers were young as well and he wanted to stand out and be different from his peers. When he told his completely made-up stories in the conference room, they all loved it and adored him. That much attention and fame is hard to step away from once you’ve gotten a taste of it.

While Glass can play the young and stupid card, there is no denying that he knew what he did was wrong. One of the core obligations of journalism is to seek the truth and report it. He claims that Chuck was just going after him because he was loyal to his previous editor, Michael, and he should’ve been supporting him as one of his reporters. But Chuck was just doing his job by keeping his reporters accountable. Glass says in the movie that his job is great because The New Republic is read by people who matter and they have a chance to really shape public opinion. Making up stories to shape opinions only leads to a loss of credibility, trust, and loyalty.

Glass should have just come right out and admitted that his story was fake the first time he was questioned. He may have gotten off with a minor suspension had he confessed earlier, but that’s nothing compared to being labeled a liar for the rest of your life. His constant lying, fake phone numbers, and fake website just made his situation worse. This story provides a lesson to all journalists, especially in today’s age, that the hunger for a juicy story should never overshadow the obligation of a journalist. If you risk writing a fabricated story for more attention and fame, you’re also risking your respect in the field of journalism and as a person, and that is not something you can afford to lose.


Shattered Glass (Lecture Slides)

Film Challenge #3

Rachel Armstrong’s withholding of her source in Nothing But the Truth demonstrated how difficult it is for reporters to keep their sources anonymous. With no federal shield law, journalists are expected to release the names of any sources they use for a story, otherwise they can lose credibility and maybe even their jobs. In Armstrong’s case, she keeps her source anonymous to protect them and to keep her integrity. While what she did could be seen as admirable to other journalists, she may have caused more trouble than she prevented by not identifying where her information came from.

It is not uncommon for a reporter to try and keep their source safe from the world, especially when their source asks for anonymity. However, today in the United States we do not have a federal shield law to allow journalists to do this. When Allison Van Doren revealed to Rachel that her mother was a CIA agent, she ended the discussion with “Don’t tell anyone I told you, okay?” In the case of Cohen v. Cowles Media, Cohen gave records to some Minnesota newspapers and was promised confidentiality. He was later identified and fired from his job and when he sued for breach of contract, he lost because the First Amendment did not bar a promissory estoppel. While that wasn’t a concern on Allison’s, Rachel thought it was best to keep her anonymous for safety reasons.

Rachel knew that if she revealed that her source was Erica Van Doren’s 6-year-old daughter, not much good would come from it. Erica may have been upset with Allison and their family may have had some troubles. She also might have lost major credibility because her main source was from a young child and for all she knew, what Allison told her could be completely wrong. Most importantly, Rachel promised confidentiality to Allison and keeping that promise was important for Rachel’s integrity as a journalist and as a person. Also, while her story led to Erica’s murder, Rachel had nationally significant information that was important for the public to know, so she put it out there.

While she had people’s best interests in mind, Rachel also had a lot of reasons to give up her source. By keeping it anonymous, she was breaking the law. Such a serious topic that questioned whether or not the U.S. was attacking the right country needed a source attached to it. National security is very important to the government and any accusations that could affect the country’s involvement in a war need some actual evidence to be available. She also damaged relationships with her newspaper and her family by staying in jail. Her paper was fined $10,000 a day and she ended up getting divorced. She came off as somewhat selfish as the movie went on.

While she caused a lot of problems for herself and others, I think Rachel Armstrong made the right decision. There was no way for her to predict the tragedies that occurred after her story was published. She promised confidentiality and kept her integrity as a journalist. This story is important to journalism because it shows us how difficult life can be when journalists keep sources anonymous. It also makes you think about whether or not a federal shield law is necessary.


Nothing But the Truth (Lecture Slides)

Film Challenge #2

The reporting done by Megan Carter in Absence of Malice shows us how the press can damage people’s lives. She comes across ethical problems while trying to report on an exciting story, and she ends up making a few bad decisions that end up hurting the people involved. Her thirst for a juicy story and her emotional ties to her subjects causes problems not only for her, but for them as well. This movie is a good representation of how reporting a story can go wrong, and what journalists should not be doing.

After illegally obtaining information on Michael Gallagher from the Dept. of Justice, Carter writes a story stating that he was a key suspect in the disappearance of Joey Diaz. She makes sure that her reporting is accurate, even though Gallagher may not end up being the perpetrator. Similarly, in the case of Hurst v. Capital Cities Media Inc., a story was written that Hurst was a suspect of a rape case. He sued for false-light invasion of privacy, but lost because the information was accurate at the time even though he didn’t commit the crime. Now in Carter’s case, she may have written a story that was accurate at the time, but she didn’t do a good job of fair reporting. She didn’t initially reveal that she got the information illegally. Today, sources need to be named up front, otherwise a journalist can lose credibility and maybe even their job.

Carter’s methods of reporting were very questionable. She did many things that people would deem unethical or wrong. For instance, when she goes to interview Michael Gallagher on his boat, she wears a wire. Because of the Wiretap Act of 1968, this would have been illegal for her to do in Florida, which is a two-party recording state. She also forms an emotional relationship with the man she wrote about in her story. She gets into a complicated situation where she’s torn between her right to inform the public and her feelings towards Gallagher. She comes across another ethical issue when she wants to clear Gallagher’s name, but also keep Theresa Perrone’s identity a secret. To secure the alibi, she included Parrone’s name, resulting in her suicide.

Although she ended up being in the wrong, Carter always had good intentions. She started out by writing a story to inform the public of an investigation and the suspects involved. The next story was released to make public the alibi of the man she had put into the spotlight. Her final story was meant to reveal corruption that had taken place involving a government official. She was trying to be a good and honest reporter by being accurate, though she did not know if it was truthful.

If I were in Megan Carter’s position, I wouldn’t have looked in the file, but still tried to find evidence to write the initial story. I also would have contacted Gallagher prior to writing to get his opinion on the investigation and use it in the story. The decisions she made weren’t always ethical, but she tried her best to right the wrongs she had made. Carter’s experience helped shape journalism by educating people on what malice is and how reporters should and should not handle a situation like this.


Absence of Malice

Film Challenge #1

The investigation done by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to expose the Watergate scandal is a very exciting and inspiring story for journalists. However, the things they did to get information out of their sources may not be seen as completely ethical. People may argue that they crossed some boundaries in their pursuit of the truth. They knew they had a groundbreaking story on their hands and they did what they had to do to get the facts and report them to the public. Not only was Watergate a significant event in American history, but it helped change the way people would judge and communicate with journalists for years to come.

At the time of Watergate in America – the early 70s – confidentiality of sources was being disputed. There were several cases, such as Branzburg vs. Hayes and the In Re Pappas case, where journalists refused to release names and information about their sources, and later had to give them up because it was seen as compelling information. Woodward and Bernstein weren’t breaking any laws when they promised many of the people they interviewed that they would remain anonymous to protect them. Today, anonymous sources are seen as more of a last resort for reporters. Although there are shield laws today protecting journalists in certain states, there is no federal law. Woodward and Bernstein would not have been able to keep so many names, like Deep Throat, out of their stories if Watergate took place today.

From an average person’s point of view, Woodward and Bernstein seemed to be nosy and intrusive. They would constantly call and bug people for information. Woodward lied and said he needed information about Howard Hunt for a background profile. These strategies of obtaining facts and stories were unethical by the standards of SPJ Code of Ethics. They may have known that what they were doing wasn’t fundamentally “right”, but they knew if they could keep following the trail they were on, it would lead to a big story that had been covered up.

From a reporter’s opinion, it would seem as though the two journalists were just doing their jobs. In their profession, they had a duty to the public to find crucial and impactful information and release it so everyone could know, because they had a right to know what was going on in their government. Woodward and Bernstein found out that people who helped run their country were doing something illegal, and they believed that it was their responsibility to tell the public, or else there was a chance that nobody would have.

Although Woodward and Bernstein did not strictly follow proper journalism ethics while uncovering the Watergate scandal, I would have handled it the same way. Their work led to many journalists being more aggressive, whether they were ethical or not, to get the real stories out there. This event also paved the way for less anonymous sources, assuring that we will try to know exactly where our information is coming from and how credible it is. The story they were after was significant on a national scale and they knew that to get the truth out, they would have to bend the rules. Journalists today owe a lot to Woodward and Bernstein.


All the President’s Men (Lecture 4.1) (SPJ Code of Ethics)