Film Challenge: Wag the Dog

Wag the Dog very blatantly brings up an ethical dilemma and the argument of whether or not there is due cause for  actions taken. In the film, Conrad Brean and Winifred Ames enlist the help of Hollywood producer Stanley Motss to create a news-worthy event to draw attention away from the President’s sexual misconduct allegations—a war. The issue comes from the ethical and legal implications of falsely creating and reporting material in regards to an imagined war. The side of the Brean, Ames, and Motss, who are working under the jurisdiction of the President, would argue that it was necessary to distract from the libelous statements being broadcasted about a Firefly and her allegations of the President sexually assaulting her. Libel is considered a statement that is “false” and “defamatory” (Class Notes, 5.2 Libel). The actions they are taking could thus be justified as an appropriate protection for the President. However, as the President is a part of a government body, he cannot be libeled (Class Notes, 5.2 Libel), and thus the justification of protections is voided. In addition, the creating of a false war to protect the reputation of a president pulls upon issues revolving around the ethical conduct of those reporting the news and the legality of falsely implying war when clearly there is no war being fought. According to the Social Responsibility Theory, the media functions to “Provide truthful, comprehensive, intelligent account of day’s events that gives context to meaning (Class Notes, 5.1 Economics of Ethics).” In addition, the SPJ Code of Ethics preaches that reporters “seek truth and report it (Class Notes, 4.1 Seeking the Truth: Core Ethics in Reporting)” and to “Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information (SPJ Code of Ethics).” In this light, Brean, Ames, and Motss, who are involved with creating the wildfire media of the “war against Albania” and the existence of “Good Old Shoe,” intentionally distorted reality and created a situation that had never happened, which clearly violates media’s ethical guidelines. Fabricating and broadcasting an imagined war, in addition to violating ethical guidelines, also brings up issues of legality—is it legal to frighten the American public with news of a false war? According to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in Schneck v. United States “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. […] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent (Wikipedia).” The question is, then, whether it was protected under the constitution for Brean, Ames, and Motss to feed fear-inducing information to the media, as well as creating a false persona for the nation to attach themselves to. At-risk speech, which can often be denied protections of the First Amendment as determined by the Supreme Court (Class Notes, 2.1 The First Amendment: Five Freedoms), is often labeled as “words immediately jeopardizing national security (Class Notes, 3.1 First Amendment Challenges). In this case, then, as the pretend war brought counter actions by Albania and could have resulted in an actual attack on the United States, the fabricated news of war as created by Brean, Ames, and Motss could very well be considered illegal and punished under federal law.

In my opinion, their reaction to the allegations of sexual misconduct against the President was ethically flawed and an overall horrible decision. By creating this fake war and tacking it onto the name of the President, it not only threatens the security of the general population of America, but also could turn sour if it was discovered to be false. In this way, their plan only perpetuated the bad tune the President was receiving by feeding lies to the American public. I would have advised the President to face the bad rap, and to provide solace through launching an investigation into the allegations, thus clearing his name (if he were innocent) and not (possibly) further tarnishing his reputation.

Finally, what I believe Wag the Dog illustrates is the distortion and manipulation that is applied by the media daily, whether they are aware of it or not. The impact I think this makes on journalism, in turn, is that it is essentially suggesting that, as long as you have your ass covered, it is perfectly alright to modify, manipulate, or distort the news which you are providing to your listeners. In turn, it instills the feeling that the media cannot be trusted as a source of reliable, accurate information. The backlash I see the media receiving for the actions seen in Wag the Dog is that they will be less trusted and questioned based on their actions–is the media truthful, or is it all a fabrication?

Presentation: Transcript and Prezi

Criminal by Association


Today, I want to talk about the 2014 shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and the articles written by Brandon Blackwell. The articles written by Blackwell bring up questions in regards to his use of an ethical code–was it ethical for Blackwell to publish his stories in the wake of Rice’s death?

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First, I want to give a little background on the case of the Tamir Rice shooting. On November 22, 2014 a Cleveland boy named Tamir Rice was shot and killed by officers responding to a call about an individual waving a gun randomly at people in the Cudell Recreation Center. The 9-1-1 caller reported that the individual, most likely a juvenile, was pointing a pistol at people. The caller also indicated that the gun might be a toy, but was unsure of that fact. This information was not relayed to officers responding to the call.

About 1.5 to 2 seconds after arriving on the scene, one of the officers opened fire on the suspect. First aid was administered about 4 minutes after the suspect had been shot; however, the first aid was not administered by the officers on the scene but by a police detective and an FBI agent who arrived on the scene after hearing shots fired. Rice was later transferred by paramedics to MetroHealth Medical Center to be treated for his injuries. He died the next day, November 23, 2014, at the age of 12 years old. An autopsy confirmed the cause of death was homicide stemming from injuries to major vessels, injuries to the intestines, and injury to the pelvis. All injuries were caused by being shot by the officer.

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Just days after the shooting, Brandon Blackwell, a writer for Northeast Ohio Media Group, published two stories. The first, published on November 24, 2014, was titled “Lawyer Representing Tamir Rice’s Family Defended Boy’s Mom in Drug Trafficking Case.” Then, on November 26, 2014, Blackwell published yet another article titled “Tamir Rice’s Father Has History of Domestic Violence.” Both articles provide insight into Rice’s parent’s criminal histories and a  brief comment on how these histories may have influenced his behavior.

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However, the context and timing of the articles brought up a debate of Blackwell’s ethical code among those in defense of Tamir Rice and those who believe his death was self-inflicted, to say the least. The first article, which implies its subject matter is the lawyer representing Rice’s family, contains very little about the lawyer in its content. Instead, the majority of the article focuses on the criminal history of Samaria Rice, Tamir Rice’s mother. The second article, though staying true to its title, seems to provide little-to-no context as to what relevance it has to Rice’s death. It, too, mainly focuses on the criminal past of Rice’s father, Leonard Warner.

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As stated before, the article on the lawyer representing Rice’s family really has very little to do with the lawyer. Of the nine paragraphs in the story, only three mention the lawyer, with one stating “… attorney Tim Kucharski represented Samaria Rice in 2012 when she faced drug possession and trafficking charges,” marking the divergence from the subject matter implied by the title. The following paragraphs then go into detail of Rice’s previous crimes, including sentencing and what was confiscated from her person as a part of the ruling. These descriptions are carried on for four paragraphs. Within the last two paragraphs of the story, Blackwell includes a commentary on Tamir Rice’s behavior as made by Dan Flannery, a clinical child psychologist at Case Western. Flannery states: “Growing up in such an environment can be confusing for a young person… They could have questions about how to react in certain situations… or how to react to police depending on… their previous interactions with law enforcement…”

But what context does information about criminal histories and potential effects on behavior give a story about a lawyer representing a case?

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The question of context is brought up again in Blackwell’s second article, where he includes Leonard Warner’s criminal history. In this article, Blackwell includes information on domestic violence cases brought against Warner in 2001–Tamir Rice had not yet been born–2010, and 2014. The article also includes the two cases of domestic violence suffered by Samaria Rice from then boyfriend Michael Wiley in 2010, including the sentence “Even though their relationship ended, Samaria Rice again found herself the victim of violence at the hands of men.” This baseless, unnecessary sentence, along with more information on Tamir Rice’s parents’ criminal histories, though providing context to Rice’s parents’ lives, seems to add little context to why he was shot and killed. It is the lack of this context that brings up the question of Blackwell’s use of ethics–was it ethical for Blackwell to publish these stories, despite their bringing little to no context to Rice’s death?

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Following the publication of these articles, Blackwell faced many voices of outrage in regard to his choice to include the criminal histories in his articles. Some individuals questioned the necessity of publishing the articles, such as Vince Grzegoreck, who published in the Cleveland Scene “Response to the article was quick and harsh–as we’ve seen time and time again in cases of African  American victims and white shooters, be they police or the George Zimmerman persuasion–except this was still somehow worse. What the hell did Rice’s parent’s criminal record have to do with his being shot 1.5 seconds after a police car pulled up to the recreation center…” Others saw it as a way to pass the blame onto the victim–by Blackwell publishing Rice’s parents’ criminal histories, he essentially allowed for Rice to take the blame for his own death, as it allowed for the conversation of “he was predisposed for violent behavior.” Others still found it to be a way to perpetuate white biases, as Bryan L. Adamson commented on in his publication for Huffington Post: “The story on Samaria Rice is ostensibly about the attorney  the family hired to represent them in this tragedy… six of the nine paragraphs, however, have nothing to do with the attorney, but everything to do about Samaria’s criminal record and two sentences about its  possible impact on her son. The story about Tamir’s father, Leonard Warner, is astounding in its bias, making no attempt whatsoever to connect the father’s history to why a police officer killed a 12-year-old boy. This is journalism at its most tin-eared and irresponsible.”

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The conversation of outrage also carried over to Twitter, where users voiced their anger at Blackwell and his choice to write those stories. As you can see here, many had the belief that Blackwell’s stories were unnecessary and disrespectful to Rice.

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Was it ethical for Blackwell to publish his stories about Rice’s parents’ criminal histories in the wake of his death? Some aspects of ethics point to no.

The SPJ Code of Ethics provides classifications that would indicate that Blackwell violated a journalist’s code of ethics in his publications. The SPJ suggests that journalists should “provide context,” “take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing, or summarizing a story,” and to “provide access to source material when its relevant and appropriate.” The SPJ also places emphasis on minimizing harm, in which a journalist should “balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort,” “realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves…” “show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage,” and “recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast.”

In ethics, specifically in the news, there is also an emphasis placed on equity. In ethics, equity equates to seeking justice for all involved in controversial issues and to treat all sources and subjects equally. In the case of Tamir Rice and Brandon Blackwell’s choice to publish his parents’ criminal histories, you may say Rice was not treated equally, as you often don’t see such a publication in regards to an individual of a different race. This same issue is covered in the ethical value of diversity, which equates to covering all segments of the audience fairly and adequately.

Finally, if following the Pluralistic Theory of Value, Blackwell has violated ethical code by publishing his articles, as it harms the victim and the family in the Tamir Rice shooting.

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In response to the outrage Blackwell faced in the light of his articles, he amended his second article with a series of sentences to “… give insight into the motivation to investigate the parent’s background.” The addition reads “People from across the region have been asking whether Rice grew up around violence. The Northeast Ohio Media Group investigated the backgrounds of the parents and found the mother and father both have violent pasts.” In addition to Blackwell’s clarification, another article was published, this time by Chris Quinn, to justify NEOMG‘s choice to allow for the publication of Blackwell’s story on Rice’s father. In this publication, Quinn states “They… found that violence was no stranger to Tamir… we reported those facts and were criticized in some quarters for doing so… we believe it may shed further light on why this 12-year-old was waving a weapon around a public park. People who want to keep the focus on what the police did feel that our examining Tamir’s family is an effort by us to excuse what police did. We don’t seek to excuse anyone, just to inform.”

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In defense of Brandon Blackwell and NEOMG‘s choice to publish the information on Rice’s parents, many may point to the fact that criminal records are public records. Here, I have a screen shot of the City of Cleveland’s page for public record requests. On the page, the City of Cleveland lists the most popular types of public records that are requested, which includes “policies and procedures, accident and crime reports, budget data, 911 calls, and crime statistics.” It also includes information on the Public Records Act of the State of Ohio, which states “The Division maintains many records that may be of interest which are available to the public (with few exceptions). This openness is meant to inspire faith in the police and to ensure that resources are used wisely and in the public interest.” So, as long as the documents don’t fall into the exception category, anyone could request and review Samaria Rice’s and Leonard Warner’s criminal records.

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In defense of Blackwell, there are also codes of ethics that support his choice to publish his stories. Under “Seek Truth and Report It,” the SPJ states to “gather, update, and correct information throughout the life of a news story,” which is exactly what Blackwell did in clarifying the context of his story. In addition, the SPJ states to “support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant,” “respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity, and fairness,” and to “boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience.”

In regards to responding to the public’s curiosity towards Tamir Rice’s upbringing, two frames of ethics support Blackwell’s decision. The first, Communitarianism, states that “In political and social issues, community interest beats individual interest.” The second, Utilitarianism, states that “it is ethical to harm one person for the benefit of the group.” In the case of Tamir Rice, the public’s desire to understand his home life would outweigh his family’s desire to leave his parents’ criminal records out of the media.

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So what do you think?  Was it ethical for Brandon Blackwell to publish his stories, despite their giving little to no context to the Tamir Rice shooting case? Did Blackwell’s addition to the story on Rice’s father clear him of any possible acts against an ethical code?In addition, do you think that public’s desire to understand Rice’s upbringing justifies Blackwell’s choice to publish the stories?

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All sources can be found in the blog post previous to this.

Presentation Slideshow and Sources


Criminal by Association


iMediaEthics — Why Was 12-Year-Old Tamir Rice’s Dad’s Criminal History Reported by Cleveland Newspaper?

Cleveland Scene — Internal Backlash After’s Coverage of Tamir Rice’s Father’s Criminal Record — Tamir Rice, 12-Year-Old Boy Shot Dead by Cleveland Police Officer, Had No Juvenile Court Record — Our Stories on Tamir Rice are the Latest in the Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Examination of How Cleveland Police Use Force — Lawyer Representing Tamir Rice’s Family Defended Boy’s Mom in Drug Trafficking Case

Huffington Post — Don’t Understand the Connection Between Tamir Rice’s Killing and His Parent’s History? Join the Club.

City of Cleveland, Ohio — Public Records

Wikipedia — Shooting of Tamir Rice — Tamir Rice’s Father Has History of Domestic Violence

SPJ Code of Ethics — Code of Ethics

Class Notes: 4.1 Ethical Framework

Class Notes: 4.1 Nature of Ethics

Presentation Topic Pitch

For my presentation this coming Tuesday, I am interested in covering the ethical issues revolving around a Cleveland publication, in the light of the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was found with an airsoft gun, which published an article titled “Tamir Rice’s father has history of domestic violence,” in which Rice’s father’s criminal history was published with no clear intent. The publication later justified its publication by stating “… the paper reported on Rice’s parents’ criminal history because readers wanted to know and ‘we believe it may shed further light on why this 12 year old was waving a weapon around a public park.'”

“Why was 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s dad’s criminal history reported by Cleveland newspaper?”



Film Challenge: Smash His Camera

Smash His Camera, a documentary revolving around the work of Ron Galella, brings to light the issue of paparazzi and their right to photograph celebrities and public figures. As stated in the film, individuals who become the subject matter of the photographs are faced with the dilemma of whether or not their privacy is infringed upon when photographers pursue  them.

Individuals taking a stance against allowing  the paparazzi almost unlimited access to the right to photograph, such as in the case of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, lean upon the belief that these photographers invade their privacy and induce fear in the individual. This was the case in the U.S. Court of Appeals trial of Galella v. Onassis, where Onassis sued Galella for his invasion of her privacy. The court ruled in favor of Onassis, citing Galella as guilty of “harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery, commercial exploitation of Onassis’s personality, and invasion of privacy (Source 1).” The court thus “Enjoined Galella from keeping Onassis or her children under surveillance, from following them, from coming within 100 yards of Onassis’s home or the children’s schools, within 75 yards of the children, or within 50 yards of Onassis, from using the name or picture of Onassis or her children for advertising, and  from attempting to communicate with Onassis or her children (Source 1).” In addition to these concerns falls another concern that photographed individuals may hold, which was included above–using an individual’s likeness for monetary gain. As was mentioned in class lecture, it is not legal to use a person’s likeness to procure payment, or to endorse or advertise a product or service. Those being photographed would hold the stance that their likeness is their own and that they should receive a sum of the profits that their likeness earned. In the case of the paparazzi, then, it can be argued that they are using their subject’s likeness for-profit without allowing payment to the individual.

However, those who believe in the right of the paparazzi have just as much weight in their opinion. Those claiming that their constitutional right to privacy is violated by the photography of paparazzi have no just claim to such sentiments as “privacy is not in the Constitution (Source 2),” and there is “little protection against media, government, and private snooping… (Source 2)” outside the privacy of one’s home. In addition, celebrities and people of public interest do not hold the same privacy as those who are private figures as they classify as all-purpose public figures–those with “widespread fame and notoriety, [or who] occupies a position of such pervasive power that they  are deemed a public figure for all purposes (Source 3).” In terms of the privacy of the individual once their pervasive power has diminished, “people once newsworthy are always newsworthy (Source 4),” meaning that, even though they might not hold the spotlight on certain occasions, those who were once frequently in the news will again be subject to the news if their actions allow so.  Finally, it has been established that “It is legal to photograph or videotape anything and anyone on any public property (Source 5),” thus validating the paparazzi’s choice to photograph celebrities in public spaces.

Personally, in situations such as these–where individuals feel threatened by  the presence of others, no matter what their societal status may be–I find it completely valid for the individual to take legal action. In the situation of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, I found it reasonable for her to seek legal protections, especially for her children. Procuring a document that demanded that Galella stay far away from her children allows for Onassis to provide them with the privacy and safety they deserve. In addition to this, the children themselves, in my opinion, did not classify as all-purpose public figures, which should allow them the privacy and respect of private figures. Photographing children, in my book, violates the ethical code in photojournalism of “acting with compassion and sensitivity (Source 6),” as these children can potentially face harmful repercussions for their photos being taken and released across the country.

Galella, as an individual, changed the face of paparazzi as a whole. Described as “‘… the Godfather of U.S. paparazzi culture’ by Time and Vanity Fair (Source 7),” and as “… a pioneer paparazzo (Source 8),” Galella showed how much could be earned from following the most recognized faces in America. Over time, the intensity of the paparazzi, as well as their population, has greatly increased because of Galella’s adamant search for famous faces to plaster on pages. This intensity has inspired two bills in California limiting the photography of paparazzi. “One of the bills makes it illegal to interfere with someone trying to enter or leave a building,” and “… was intended to protect the children of [celebrities] (Source 9).” The other “… [expanded] the state’s definition of stalking to include unwanted surveillance that has no legitimate purpose (Source 9).” Though Galella calls the paparazzi of today  “gangbangers (Source 10)” it is no doubt that his intense love of photographing the famous has inspired many to pursue their careers as paparazzi as well, in addition to inspiring legislation to curb their ability to “…inflict emotional distress… (Source 1)” upon their subject matter.


1. Quimbee “Galella v. Onassis Case Brief”

2.  Class Notes: 11.1 Privacy

3. Class Notes: 6.1 Libel and Public Figures

4. Class Notes: 11.1 Private Facts

5. Wikipedia “Photography and the Law”

6. Class Notes: 5.1 Ethics in Photos

7. Ron Galella “Much Has Been Written of Ron Galella”

8. Wikipedia “Ron Galella” 

9. USA Today “California Lawmakers Pass Bills to Restrict Paparazzi”

10. AARP “Where Are They Now? Ron Galella”