Wag the Dog

The movie Wag the Dog (1997) is about the President of United States who gets stuck in a sex scandal with a young girl scout, and needs an idea to cover it up before the big election. This is just unethical from the beginning. Knowing that this sex scandal is not a rumor and is true, I can say that I would never vote for a president that has had a sex scandal with a young child. The President looks to Conrad Brean; a notorious political “spin doctor” for a solution to cover up his mistake. The suggestion that Brean makes is to create an artificial war to distract the American people from the scandal with the President. This will hopefully allow the people to be more focused on the fake war with Albania, instead of the scandal. However, the CIA catches wind of this fake war and immediately gets involved. The CIA leaks information that the war in Albania is over and the attention is once again focused back on the President and his scandal. Brean then comes up with the idea of Part 2 of the fabrication, and fabricates another story about a missing soldier who was left in Albania. In the end all goes well for the President, but the producer of the fabricated story (Motts) is upset when the President doesn’t give him credit for helping him be elected. Motts then threatens to release what really happened, and is later found dead due to a “heart attack”. Motts knows that he has been killed to cover up the President’s tracks.

I believe that this correlates directly to the historic event of the Watergate scandal. President Nixon attempted to cover up a break in to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) that was instructed by him. This directly correlates with this movie because it shows how both Presidents’ are willing to do unethical things to be elected. The only difference is that in the movie the President is successful. Whereas, Watergate was “the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon (”

I think this is tough to say how it is handled. I believe that trust is very important when someone is being elected to be the highest representative of a country, and in this situation my trust was broken when I heard about the sex scandal. Obviously not everyone can be perfect and makes mistakes, but a mistake to this degree is just to hard for me to get over to vote for someone as president. I think that if the President wanted to try and rebuild this trust that he could have taken accountability for what he did, and sought out help before returning to run for election. This would have helped my view of him, but instead he proceeded to create this insane story to try and distract the people from his mistake.

I think this will have a pretty big impact on journalism. The meaning of wag the dog is “when something of secondary importance improperly takes on the role of something of primary importance (Urban Dictionary).” This shows that journalism can be used sometimes in a bad way to undermine something that may be extremely important. We have to continue to be focused on what is true information that is being reported, and what is false information.


Smash His Camera

Smash His Camera (2010) is a film that looks into the career of a celebrity photographer or paparazzi member Ron Galella. Ron Galella was willing to go to extreme lengths to get a photograph as a celebrity photographer. This definitely raised the debate of the ethical guidelines that came with paparazzi. Photojournalist’s were seen as being to aggressive when trying to get photos of celebrities. They were willing to sacrifice their reputation, put themselves in harms way, all to simply do their job. The quote that stuck with me from the movie, and to me explains why paparazzi do their job was when the movie talked about Andy Warhol. He stated that “My idea of a good picture is one that’s in focus and of a famous person doing something unfamous,” which is exactly to me what the public wants, and Ron Galella was willing to put himself into situations that allowed him to get these pictures. And that is why he was so successful. The question is how far is to far with these photojournalists when it comes to invading others privacy. Or are these photojournalists just exercising their first amendment to the fullest.

Historically there are many cases of paparazzi invading celebrity’s privacy. Including when Nicole Kidman won a case against the paparazzi in Australia. This is a good example of a photojournalist going to such an extreme that “[Nicole Kidman] was “really scared” when Mr. Fawcett chased her car across Sydney in 2005 (BBC, 2005). ” It came to the point that Nicole Kidman was scared for her well being because of the extremes that the photojournalist was going to, to get a photograph of her.

Obviously these situations can be handled in many different ways. If we are looking at these situations from the viewpoint of Ron Galella, it may not be seen as an act of intrusion. To Ron Galella he is simply trying to do his job to the fullest. He is trying to capture these photos of famous people doing unfamous actions. He had this amazing passion for photographing Jackie Kennedy and felt it was his right to do so. Looking at this from the perspective of Jackie, she obviously did not think the same way. She felt that she was wronged in the way that her privacy was taken away from her when Ron Galella was following her day in and day out to get photographs of her. It would have been more ethical for Ron to simply give Jackie her space, but that was not the view that Ron had on the situation obviously. For Jackie, she felt that Ron was going to such extremes that she felt harassed, and uncomfortable and that is when Jackie decided to sue Ron and resulted in a restraining order.

I believe this will have a huge impact on journalism in two different ways. Photojournalists may see how dedicated, and passionate Ron Galella was with his work and be inspired. This inspiration could see other photojournalists going to similar extremes to become a top-notch journalist. On the other hand, celebrities have become more aware of the extravagances that photojournalists have gone to and start to become more cautious. This caution could be exercised in many different ways like more security, and higher tolerance for what photojournalists are willing to do.

Shattered Glass

Shattered Glass (2003) truly shows how difficult it is to be an aspiring reporter these days, and how hard you have to work, to do exactly the opposite of what Stephen Glass did in this movie. Stephen Glass was a 26-year-old reporter for The New Republic. Being a young reporter it is difficult to find the big stories because you have not implemented yourself as a big time writer yet, and people don’t necessarily want to talk to someone with no credibility. Stephen Glass was suppose to be this big new writer and instead went against all ethical guidelines and completely fabricated stories to promote himself in the ranks as a great reporter. Sure enough, Glass is forced to admit of his wrong doings with obviously led to his reporting profession to come to a halt. Obviously this is a very specific situation, but this leads me to believe that other reporters would do to same thing. This is blatantly going against the core values for journalism ethics, which are: “reporting the truth, credibility, plagiarism, gifts, off the record, [and] attribution (4.2).”

This directly correlates to the historic event involving New York Times reporter Jayson Blair. “Jayson Blair, 27, misled readers and Times colleagues with dispatches that purported to be from Maryland, Texas and other states, when often he was far away, in New York. He fabricated comments. He concocted scenes. He lifted material from other newspapers and wire services. He selected details from photographs to create the impression he had been somewhere or seen someone, when he had not (Barry, Barstow, Glater, Liptak, Steinberg).” This is a very similar instance when it comes to fabricating stories to promote yourself within the organization, just like Stephen Glass did. Not only did he fabricate stories, but also he plagiarized other journalist’s work to increase the value of his own work. Mr. Blair was forced to resign and lost his job.

I believe this has a massive impact on journalism, especially if these actions continue to happen by journalists. Credibility, and telling the truth are the two of the most important values when it comes to ethics. Truth correlates with credibility. If a reporter continues to not tell the truth, then they will lose their credibility and will not be an effective reporter any longer. When a reporter has a large amount of credibility more people are willing to talk to them because they trust them to tell the truth. The large impact that multiple journalists can have on journalism because they fabricate stories is immense. Credibility is extremely important when it comes to journalism.

If I were Stephen Glass I would have done things much differently. First of all I wouldn’t have fabricated a story in the first place if it came to my profession. But, not only did he fabricate once he continued to do so even after he did it in the first place. He had a choice to stop, it is not a mistake it was a choice to continue to keep lying to the people who read his stories. I would have felt guilty fabricating a story to be promoted in my business. If I was ever to be a reporter I feel the most satisfying success would be honest success.





Course Lecture 4.2 – Journalism Ethical Framework

Barstow, David. “Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 10 May 2003. Web. 08 Mar. 2015.

Nothing but the Truth

Nothing but the Truth is a movie surrounding the decision made by a reporter for the Capital Sun-Times. The reporter finds out that a fellow neighborhood mom is in fact a CIA agent, who was recently in Venezuela investigating an assassination attempt on the president of the United States. Rachel Armstrong the reporter cannot get any information out of the other mom about being a CIA agent. Rachel than confirms her suspicion when she finds out from the daughter what her mothers job is, which is in fact a CIA agent. She then prints a story in the paper, outing the CIA agent, which is a federal offense. When asked who her source is, Rachel restrains the knowledge and is sentenced to prison for obstruction of the court. Not releasing her source keeps her from losing her credibility and her ethical beliefs, but she is punished for the illegal offense.

Looking at both sides of the argument, she was simply trying to do her job to the fullest, and had provision from her editor and legal counsel to do so. Unfortunately the Shield Law does not protect any journalist when there is a federal crime-taking place. A shield law “provides legal protection for the “reporters’ privilege” – protect journalists against the government requiring them to reveal confidential sources or other information (Lecture 8.1).” Because of this she is sentenced to years in prison, which will keep her away from her family.

Historically this movie is very similar to the Branzburg vs. Hayes (1972) case. Paul Branzburg wrote two articles about people in Kentucky and the use of Marijuana. The pot users that he spoke to and gained information from asked to be kept anonymous. Branzburg was later subpoenaed in front of a grand jury for the articles he wrote. This again is an example of how a shield law cannot protect a journalist when he is reporting about an event that is a federal offense. Branzburg believed he was just reporting the news as an act of the first amendment, but unfortunately not protected by a shield law (Branzburg vs. Hayes 1972). When Branzburg was asked to testify against the illegal acts that were taking place in Kentucky, he refused and would not release any of his sources.

For the situation in Nothing but the Truth I feel the journalist, Rachel Armstrong, could have handled the situation differently. Obviously I am able to say this now because I have witnessed the problem in retro-spec and know of the consequences of these actions. I would have looked further into the situation, and got my facts straight about revealing a CIA agent through the media. Once I found out that this was a federal offense I would have dropped the story knowing that I would not be protected by the shield law. I do not think that writing a story that is sketchy, and from the source of a child would be worth having to be away from my family in jail. Of course I only know this because of the information we have learned in class.

I believe this has a high impact on journalism. I think journalists across the country will see this story and be hesitant to produce anything that may put them in jail without proper investigation. This may change the amount of information that sources reveal as well because of the repercussions that can take place.




Lecture Slides 8.1 – Shield Law

Nothing but the Truth (2008)

Branzberg vs. Hayes (1972)

Absence of Malice

While watching the movie “Absence of Malice” we experienced multiple examples of unethical decisions, and an example of libel within the media. The title of the movie refers to the legal definition of libel defamation. Libel is defined as a false accusation of an individual that has been published and damages the reputation of the accused.

During the movie a reporter named Megan is looking into the disappearance of Joey Diaz who is a longshoreman union official. Without any hard evidence to print, Megan searches out the detective who is looking into the case as well. The detective makes short work of her, and leaves her in his office claiming he has a meeting to attend. After the detective has left Megan makes an unethical decision to take the portfolio off of the detectives desk labeled “Joey Diaz”. This I believe is one of the more definitive unethical moves we have seen in our two movies. This is unethical because Maggie is stealing information that she wants for her own personal glory. However, one could make the case that she is just doing her job to the fullest possible. We find out later that the detective left the portfolio on his desk on purpose, knowing Megan Foster would take it. Was this an unethical decision as well? The detective planned to do this because he was trying to squeeze any kind of information he could out of Michael Gallagher. I believe this is an unethical move by the detective and could be seen as assistance in libel. However, we learned in class that the only person that can be subject to libel is the one who published the information.

Later, Megan prints a story about in the newspaper about how the person on the top of the list is a wholesale alcohol importer, Michael Gallagher. What we also know is that Megan has an outside source that is feeding her information about the case. Gallagher sees the article and wants to meet with Megan in person to discuss it. Megan goes for lunch with Mr. Gallagher wearing a wire, and being followed for her protection. Gallagher knows that this is happening and calls her out on the situation. Gallagher then explains that the story is incorrect, and asks who Megan’s source is. Refusing to tell him, Gallagher decides its time for her to leave.

Is this considered libel defamation? Is Michael Gallagher considered a public figure? This article did hurt Gallagher’s reputation because the longshoreman no longer wanted to do business with him, and his workers began to ask questions.

This is similar to the case we had to read about the bombing of the Boston Marathon and the picture of the “Bag Men”. Two men were photographed and labeled as top culprits in the bombing of the Boston Marathon. The two men immediately headed to the police station pleading their innocence. “This was inevitable: The two people plastered on the front of the New York Post days after the Boston Marathon bombing under the headline “Bag Men” are suing the paper for libel and invasion of privacy. (Washington Post) Gallagher was falsely accused and so were these men at the Boston Marathon. The paper in the movie was forced to write a story explaining the incidents.

I am not sure how I would have handled this situation differently. Obviously it could have started with Megan not printing the story about Michael Gallagher. On the other hand, would the detectives get as much information as they did without the story? My plan would have been to have someone look further in Michael Gallagher and his whereabouts on the night of the disappearance. As for Megan Foster, I believe she could have been a bit wiser and before printing the story she could have looked further into Mr. Gallagher, and tried a little harder to get a hold of him in the first place.




Wemple, Erik. “New York Post Sued for Libel over ‘Bag Men’ Story.” The Washington Post. N.p., 6 June 2013. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.


All The Presidents Men

Throughout the movie All The President’s Men the ethical values of The Washington Post writers Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are questioned. Are these writers just doing their job ass efficiently as they can? Or are they crossing some ethical borders in order to gain valuable information? In our lectures the definition of ethics is “Analysis, evaluation and promotion of correct conduct and/ or good character, according to the best available standards.” (4.1 Video) To me ethics can be a very subjective topic depending on person to person. During the movie Woodward has a contact that is on the board of the presidential election. This contact is leaking information to Woodward about the burglary and money used to help Nixon win the election. Is this unethical for Woodward to do? I do not believe so because he is just doing his job to the fullest. The unethical side may be that the source of the information is leaking more information than he should be which, is a job well done by Woodward. Also, during the film Bernstein and Woodward approach a woman’s house to gather more information about the internal issues at the Whitehouse. This may not be unethical because they are once again doing their jobs, but when they use fake names to try and draw out evidence that is an action that is unethical under the category we learned in class about omission.

My concern is for the credibility of both Woodward and Bernstein. After they published that story word must have got out about how persistent they were when it came to the two of them badgering people into giving them material to write. In an article we had to read it talks about how Jayson Blair plagiarized, fabricated stories, and he lied saying he was in a place he never was. This crushed the credibility of the New York Times for a small amount of time and “For a while, it even made The Times a laughingstock in late-night comedy routines.” (Margaret Sullivan) After the story about the Watergate scandal the credibility of The Washington Post is obviously stellar, considering all the repercussions afterwards. The question I am asking is if you are a civilian who has important information, would you be telling it to Woodward and Bernstein considering the ethical lines that they crossed? I know if Jayson Blair ever asked me about a topic I would be hesitant to tell him.

To be honest I don’t know how this whole situation should have been handled. Obviously Bernstein and Woodward did some pretty skeptical things that people would consider “wrong”, but they were doing their jobs. I think obviously you could start with how Nixon never should have been doing these actions that he needed to cover up in the first place and avoided these ethical concerns.

I believe this had an immense impact on journalism. Journalists understood what was being done by Bernstein and Woodward and are not going to be as tentative to come close to crossing these ethical lines. Of course people who are not journalists will see this as unethical just as they did in the movie. The item that I think that it is important to keep remembering is that ethics is biased depending on the person. Every person has their own opinion on what is and isn’t ethical. Now that journalists are beginning to understand that from the examples of this movie I believe that more are willing to do things that some people may see as unethical. An example that makes sense to me is that you always hear about MTV capturing these ridiculous photos of celebrities while they are trying to enjoy their private lives. Sure, the celebrities are probably annoyed and think it’s an invasion of their space. However, the journalists writing the story and capturing these photos are once again just trying to do their jobs.


Lecture 4.1 Introduction into Journalism Ethics, slide 2

Lecture 4.2.2 Journalism Ethical Framework – What’s Reasonable and Sources, slide 5

Sullivan, Margaret. “Repairing the Credibility Crack.” The New York Times 4 May 2013: 1. The New York Times. Web.