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Final Movie Challenge: Wag the Dog

After watching “Wag the Dog” it is clear some journalism ethical codes were broken. The SPJ Code of Ethics says to seek and report the truth. Making up a war to distract the public from controversial allegations against the president is not seeking or reporting the truth, it is fabricating news and lying to the public. This breaks another rule as well, to cause no harm. Manipulating news or making up a war could cause panic to the public and harm the reputation of the country we are “at war with.” The dog in this case is the president’s sexual assault scandal and the tail is the fake war with Albania.

Although I do not agree with it, I can see both sides of this issue. Conrad Brean is trying to protect the reputation of the president before the upcoming election. This is his job, so I can see why he would go to such extreme measures to do it well. However, I would never go as far as creating a fake war. If I had to take action, I would find out if the allegations were true or not and depending on the answer I would handle it from there. There are no secrets in this world and I don’t think lying to the media or public in such an extreme case would be right or fly in today’s world.

The ramifications for journalism would be very negative. Not only are they reporting false information, they might even be doing so willingly. This defeats the whole purpose of journalism as a watchdog of the government. If they go along with what PR people say then they are surrendering their power of delivering the truth to the public and that can become a dangerous advantage to the government. Also, if the public finds out about the lies, then their trust in journalists and the media will fade drastically and when real stories occur, the public will be less likely to trust them.

Media manipulation refers to the act of creating an image or argument that favors their interests. It includes the use of propaganda techniques to manipulate the public. In the film we saw the shoe trend, which shows just how powerful the media can be in influencing mindsets and actions. A similar trend I can think of like that in our society is a half-staff flag on certain holidays or remembrance occasions. This is a government action that schools, business or anyplace with an American flag practice on such occasions. It shows how we are able to come together as a nation as a result of media and government persuasion and influence.

There are also real media manipulation examples, some we have talked about in class. Some examples are the CNN’s coverage of the first Gulf War by anchorman Charles Jaco. The coverage is clearly theatrical but in the 90s, people might have believed it. Another example is Photoshop. Some examples include the Kent State shooting photo, Time Magazine’s cover of OJ Simpson, the 9/11 tourist picture with the plane in the background and more. These are all problems because they trick the public into believing what is not real. Journalism in all forms serves as historical records and if not recorded factually our understanding of history can be misconstrued.

Sources:

http://listverse.com/2007/10/19/top-15-manipulated-photographs/

http://definitions.uslegal.com/m/media-manipulation/

http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

Movie Challenge #6: “Smash his Camera”

I happened to find this film very interesting. It was one of the first times I heard the paparazzi’s side in the debate over whether paparazzi taking pictures of celebrities is ethical or not. I see both sides of this debate and believe it depends upon the situation. If the celebrity chooses to put themself in the spotlight then I think there is nothing wrong with their picture being taken in public. They make a living off of having fans and those fans are interested in their lives and identify with them when they are photographed in public doing normal activities. However, I do see the celebrities’ side and I think there should be limits. For example, if they are with their kids or family members who don’t chose to put themselves in the spotlight, or if they are at their home or a hospital. However, Celebrities are public figures and since they have less protection under libel and slander laws, they should also have less protection with cases dealing with the paparazzi.

In our lectures we discussed freedom of the press in the First Amendment and congress shall make no law abridging that freedom. However, this says “no law”, not “absolutely no law.” Privacy is currently not protected in the constitution. In class we discussed private facts and “bedroom” privacy, but outside of the bedroom, little privacy protection exists. Based on this, I thing it is completely ethical for photographers like Galello to take picture of celebrities in public setting, which is what he did.

However, I do think there were times where Galello crossed the line. Forging credentials, sneeking into private parties and wearing disguises are all things that are unethical. Although he never physically harmed anyone, even though his actions and presence caused some emotional distress, I think he genuinely cared about his subjects and did not have any malicious intent. I took away that he had a passion for capturing celebrities in public settings and loved showing them to the public and I see no harm in that.

In the film it is asked, “what type of human being does it take to photograph people who do not want to be photographed?” I think the issue here is not the photographer but the subject. If someone puts themself in the public eye then they should be aware that paparazzi can come with the job. On the other hand, I think there need to be boundaries that prevent paparazzi from taking things too far. When paparrazi turn into gold digging animals and put people in harms way to get a picture then it impacts journalism in a negative way by making it seem like we are all horrible, selfish people just looking to make money. This can lead to the creation of laws that ruin opportunities for other journalists.

Senate Bill 606 was signed into California law by state governor Jerry Brown. It asked for increased penalties for anyone attempting to record or photograph a child because of their parent or guardian’s employment in a manner that “seriously alarms, annoys, torments, or terrorizes” them. Haley Berry and Jennifer Gardner advocated for this and I fully support this Bill. I believe it shows these celebrities realize paparazzi comes with their job, but that it should not affect their children’s lives and I agree with that.

Sources:

Lecture notes on Privacy and First Amendment

http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140SB606

 

Final Project Idea

Group 5 has decided to examine the ethical question concerning victims of sex crimes and what information should be disseminated about them. We plan to reference an article on iMediaEthics.org titled “Did several local New York media outlets violate journalism ethics in reports on the alleged rape victim of a New York woman?” This article discusses how news outlets gave detailed information about the victim including her address as well as pictures and videos from the victims neighbor. We also plan to reference this site: http://www.spj.org/ecs11.asp and many other cases to help support our presentation and discuss the ethics behind this issue. Our goal is to analyze what information is ethical to report in these cases and what should be kept private.

Movie Challenge #4 “Shattered Glass”

The issue present in “Shattered Glass” is fabrication. Stephen Glass fabricated 27 of the 41 pieces he had written for the New Republic. The SPJ Code of Ethics says to seek the truth and report it, minimize harm and be accountable. Glass went against all of these and therefore he breached ethical rules of journalism.

There are two sides of this issue, to make up stories and people as he did or to not. For the purpose of these movie challenges we are supposed to touch on both sides of the argument, however, I can only defend one side. The goal of journalism is to seek the truth and report it and to report the best obtainable version of the truth. If we make up lies we are not doing our jobs as journalists and then the public begins to question if they can trust the information we disseminate. What Glass did was unethical and he did cause harm. He got himself fired and possibly damaged his reputation forever, he almost destroyed the New Republic and he hurt the profession of journalism. Not to mention it cost him life-long relationships. When one journalist is caught fabricating stories as in this case as well as in Brian William’s case, the public questions all journalists and all news stories. In order for journalism to survive we need the public to trust in journalists’ ability to report accurately. When stories and information are fabricated, that trust is lost and very difficult to get back.

When I think of this issue, the other side I think of is the other employees at the New Republic. There are editors and fact checkers who looked at Glass’ stories before they were published. Although Glass would go above and beyond to hide that his stories were fabricated, there should have been a deeper fact checking system. I understand that during this time there was no Google and it was easy for Glass to makeup notes, websites and voicemails, however, I believe they should have used other items such as phone books or other ways to prove facts to be true. If I were the editor and I thought something in a story was inaccurate then I would hold it until I got confirmation.

Glass was fired after his fabrications were discovered. I would have done the same thing. It wasn’t just one time or one mistake, but it was 21 intentional times and which hurt Glass’ reputation as well as the publication’s, so losing his job was definitely necessary

Many of the study guide questions brought up interesting points that the short length of this post won’t allow me to touch upon. However, I do believe the film was told in a wonderful way. It was told through the mind of Glass as he narrated his story to a room of students that turned out to be imaginary. I appreciated this technique because I believe it serves the purpose of giving the audience an inside look into Glass’ mind, showing how well he was able to use his imagination. He imagined a teacher and classroom full of students all while being alone and I think it allows the reader to see how he was able to make up his stories so well.

 

 

Sources:

http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

“Shattered Glass”

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120145/stephen-glass-new-republic-scandal-still-haunts-his-law-career

Movie Challenge #3: “Nothing but the Truth”

In “Nothing but the Truth” the main ethical issue was whether or not Rachel should reveal her source. Shield laws provide legal protection against the government requiring journalists to reveal confidential sources. However, there is no shield protection at the federal level. In Branzburg v Hayes it was decided that journalists do not have a right to refuse to reveal sources in court if “the subject is of overriding and compelling state interest.” In this film, Rachel was jailed and her paper was fined $10,000 everyday that she did not reveal her source.

I see both sides of this debate. Since her source revealed the identity of a CIA agent, it could be scene as a threat to national security. In that case, the government has the right to force her to reveal her source or face punishment, since there is no shield law at the national level. One the other hand, being forced to reveal sources is something that influences journalism by threatening one of the most vital functions of the press, serving as a watchdog by uncovering stories. In pursuit of these stories journalists must often obtain information from sources that sometimes wish to not be revealed. If journalists reveal their sources after being forced to then it could prevent future sources from talking even if confidentiality is promised.

Although some say a shield law could harm national security, Ted Olson, the former solicitor general said, “but we do not recoil from judicial oversight when it comes to attorney-client or physician-patient privilege. There is no reason we should reject it when it comes to journalist-source communications.” He has a very good point that I agree with. In our study guide on newsgathering, it is stated under access “as long as laws don’t single out press, they can be applied to the press.” However allowing attorney-client privilege and physician-patient privilege, but not journalist-source privilege, singles out the press by not including them in that right.

In another instance, Foxnews.com reporter Jana Winter fought a push from a judge to reveal sources who gave her information regarding the Aurora shooter. Winter said “If I am forced to reveal the identities of persons whom I have promised to shield from public exposure, simply put, I will be unable to function effectively in my profession, and my career will be over.” I completely agree with her statement. In order to report the best version of the truth we need sources and in order to get sources, we need to ensure protection of their identity if they wish. It is a threat to national security if journalists can’t serve as watchdogs and report because no sources feel comfortable coming forward.

Although I believe this, I do think I would have revealed the source in Rachel’s situation. Revealing that it was a little girl would have caused the child no harm and it could have saved the life of the CIA agent, jail time for Rachel and the money the paper had to pay. However, I respect her for not revealing her source and maintaining journalistic professionalism. I believe she set a good example that even in these extreme circumstances journalists can be trusted. However, I believe protecting her source did more harm than good and the SPJ Code of Ethics states to “minimize harm.”

 

Sources:

http://www.adweek.com/tvnewser/fox-news-reporter-if-forced-to-reveal-sources-my-career-will-be-over/175570?red=tn

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rod-lurie/nothing-but-the-truth-abo_b_147556.html

Lecture on shield laws: 8.1

http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

Movie Challenge #2

There is no doubt that there are some controversial issues pertaining to how information was obtained and the way stories were reported in “Absence of Malice.” Some of the issues that arise are working with sources, libel and reporting private facts.

One of the earlier scenes in the movie shows Megan looking at a file left intentionally by the federal prosecutor. This involves the issue of reporting private facts. Knowing this is an illegal act, I honestly would have probably looked at the file. The information found in it is factual and trustworthy and if I was reporting on the story I would have looked. However, I could see why someone would not do this. It is unlawful and unethical, however, if it is to serve a better purpose by reporting the truth then I think it should be allowed.

Issues of working with sources are present in in “Absence of Malice”. When they are on the boat, Megan is recording Gallagher. Florida is a two-party recording state, meaning both parties must know they are being recorded. Knowing this, I would not record someone unless they were aware. It is unlawful and unethical, so therefore, reporting what was said could lead to a breach in trust as well as the law. However, I can see why Megan did record him. It is a high profile case and she is trying to report the truth.

Another issue of working with sources is should sources be kept confidential and should private facts on the record be reported? In the case of Megan dealing with Teresa Perrone, I think she did the write thing of reporting her alibi with Gallagher. He is a suspect in a murder case and proving his innocence (if he is innocent) should be the number one priority, even if the alibi is personal and controversial. Perrone’s quotes were on the record, so I would have reported what she said too because it had served the better purpose of the public and Gallagher while only harming one person. However, she did try to collect the papers once they were printed to prevent her neighbors from reading them and went on to commit suicide. This brings the issue of libel to mind. Although the outcome of this was horrible, I don’t believe Megan was at fault. She reported the truth and identified the source. If she had known what Perrone would do then she may not have done it, but she did not make up lies, give her opinion or intentionally try to cause harm to Perrone. Although I don’t believe this to be an ethical issue since it does not fit the definition of libel, as taught in our lecture, I do think it is an ethical issue. The quotes were on the record but Perrone never seemed confortable with her name being attached to them. As much as I would have liked to print the quotes and alibi I think I would have had a hard time doing so.

 

Sources:

From lectures: 6.1 Libel, 6.2 Defenses of Libel Claims

Movie Challenge #1: “All the President’s Men”

The SPJ Code of Ethics states one should seek the truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable. However, everyone has different moral values about what is right and wrong and therefore, have different ways of handling ethical situations. This was something Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had to face when breaking the Watergate scandal.

The first issue seems to arise when Woodward questions the attorney at the courthouse. I believe this was completely ethical. He introduced himself and asked valid questions that any journalist would ask. On the other hand, I could see how this could be considered unethical. Interviewing the attorney in the courthouse while his client was in trial was probably not the time and place to question him. However, he acted independently, held himself accountable by introducing himself, and sought to report the truth. These are all things listed under the SPJ Code of Ethics that he followed. I would have acted in the same way he had. There is always another reporter who wants to break a story, so being professionally aggressive is sometimes what needs to be done to get information.

Another ethical issue brought up in the film was when Woodward was trying to track down Howard Hunt and Chuck Colsen. I can see this as being unethical. He did not tell that the true reason that he was trying to track them down was to link them to the Watergate scandal (omission) and he falsely stated he was looking for information to complete a portfolio (commission). For these reasons the situation could be viewed as unethical. On the other hand, his efforts showed he was trying to be accurate by seeking confirmation and he showed tenacity by putting in extra effort to gather additional information. He also introduced himself; therefore he held himself accountable and was seeking to report the truth in a way that caused little to no harm.  I would have only left out why I am asking or what I am writing about unless they asked, but I would not have lied about it.

Another ethical issue that arises is when Deep Throat is used as a confidential source. It is not unethical to use a confidential source. In fact, disclosing a source’s identity after promising anonymity could lead to a breach of contract suit. Anonymous sources should be the last resort and there is no legal protection provided to journalists to keep source identities or other information secret, as ruled in Branzburg v. Hayes in 1971. It depends on the reader whether or not they believe an anonymous source. If the source had a reputation of being correct every time then they gain credibility and become reliable. If I trusted the anonymous source, they were providing true/factual information and they were credible then I would have quoted him as an anonymous source as well.

In conclusion, there are many instances that could be considered unethical, but it depends on the person looking at the situation and the angle in which the situation is viewed. I believe that Woodward and Bernstein were ethical in all of their reporting. They did not do anything illegal and since their intention was to report the truth and serve as the fourth estate I would have acted in a similarly.

 

 

Sources:

iTunesU:

4.0 In-Class Ethics

4.1 Introduction to Journalism Ethics

4.2 Journalism Ethical Frameworks

4.2.2 Journalism Ethical Framework–What’s Reasonable and Sources