Film Challenge #6 – Wag the Dog

Wag the Dog (1997) is a film that involves the President of the United States being caught in a scandalous situation involving a young girl, but through mass media and fabrication, this scandal goes absent. With the election just days away, the President tries to redirect attention and cover the scandal by turning to Conrad Brean, a political “spin doctor”. Brean, being a specialist at what he does best, helps the President manufacture an artificial war with Albania along with Producer Stanley Motts, shifting the focus from his scandal to the war, which he intends on ending, appearing heroic in the voters eyes. This though, is not as easy as the President thought, as the CIA becomes involves and shifts the focus back to the President’s scandal by releasing statements that the war with Albania has concluded. With the attention back on the President, an idea to release a story regarding a missing heroic soldier from the war with Albania is put into action, resulting in the President being re-elected and praised for his efforts. After seeing the results, Motts becomes frustrated with the President, as he is not recognized for his help in getting him re-elected. Motts expresses his frustrations, threatening to come out with the truth. Motts is then found dead due to a “heart attack”.

Looking at the historical perspective on the ethical issues at hand, the film correlates directly to the film we viewed in class earlier this semester, All The Presidents Men (1976). In All the President’s Men (1976), President Nixon tries to cover the Watergate Scandal he and his office were apart of, by sanctioning dirty tricks and unethical activities while in office. The film can also be attributed to Shattered Glass (2003), where fabricating quotes, sources, and the overall story was the plot, correlating to actions of the President’s artificial war with Albania. Lastly, the film correlates directly with the case of Janet Cooke’s story Jimmy’s World (1980), a story about an eight-year-old heroin addict, whom was not a real child, and a made up story in general, exactly what happened in Wag the Dog.

When it comes to how this situation should have been handled, or how the President handled it, I have no words. The situation should have never happened and never been covered. The President of the United States should be someone you can trust with your life, and in this situation, there is not a chance I could trust my life, and neither could Stanley Mott by the way things resulted. The fact that the President of the United States was caught in a sex scandal with a minor should raise a red flag right away. He should have taken responsibility for his actions, not trying to cover a scandal.

I believe that this film has an enormous impact on journalism as it shows us just how powerful mass media truly is, especially when it comes to true and false stories. Stories that are released are so easily believed and the truth is far from easy when trying to uncover it. The SPJ Code of Ethics comes to mind, where seeking the truth and reporting it is the only option we have when releasing stories, knowing they are not fabricated and cannot be raised in ethical debate.


All The President’s Men. (1976).

Jimmy’s World. (1980).

Shattered Glass. (2003).

Wag the Dog. (1997).

Film Challenge #5 – Smash His Camera

Smash His Camera (2010) displays the life and career of famous paparazzi photographer Ron Galella. The documentary raises ethical debates on whether photojournalists and paparazzi are too aggressive in nature when photographing celebrities, putting their reputation on the line or even putting their life in danger, or simply doing their job, documenting these celebrities through their artwork. It also questions the paparazzi’s right to invade the privacy of these celebrities, and how far they are willing to stretch their freedom of the press and first amendment rights.
Looking at the historical perspective on the ethical issues at hand, the documentary pertains precisely to the cases of many celebrities who have been offended, injured, or embarrassed by the paparazzi. Cases like Lindsey Lohan crashing and becoming hurt because she was being followed by a mass amount of paparazzi (The Telegraph, 2005) to the case of Princess Diana, losing her life in a car crash while being trailed by paparazzi cars (ABC News, 2014). Were the paparazzi simply doing their job trying to photograph these celebrities? Or were they completely out of their element and unethical in their motives?
The circumstances that are documented in Smash His Camera (2010) of Ron Galella can be looked at in two ways when handling the situations in which he was found. The first would be the ethical way of looking at paparazzi. I believe that Ron should have had more ethical values when pursuing Jackie Kennedy for photos. Some of the tactics he used to get in position for a photo was absurd, and harassing in nature, making it uncomfortable to watch, and uncomfortable for Jackie as well, resulting in her suing him. Yes, it was his job to get photos of her, but he could have done it in a more respectable way, not putting her in the position that she felt she was being harmed. On the other hand though, I believe that Ron did what it took to get the photos of Jackie that he wanted, having passion and determination as a photojournalist. Your job as a photojournalist or paparazzi is to photograph, and that is what Ron did.
I believe that this movie has an enormous impact on journalism. The movie shows us how the paparazzi are another piece to the puzzle in the world of journalism. These photojournalists provide photos that document the situations that are being reported, proving their importance to journalism. Being a photojournalists or paparazzi, though, is a tough position, where respect and detachment from those they target is necessary, but rightfully so, as shown in Smash His Camera (2010), doing anything necessary to get the photo they desire is required.


ABC News. Princess Diana Died 17 years Ago Today. (2014).

Smash His Camera. (2010)

The Telegraph. Actress hurt in second car crash as she is hounded by paparazzi pack. (2005).

Film Challenge #4 – Shattered Glass

Shattered Glass (2003) displays the difficult situation that aspiring reporters must consider when writing a proper story. Stephen Glass, a reporter for The New Republic, was caught up in being the new, famous young writer and forgot one of the biggest aspects of being a journalist and reporter, not to lie and fabricate your story. Fabrication is defined as “the action or process of manufacturing or inventing something; a lie” (Merriam-Webster) and directly connects to ethics in journalism. Lying, looking for a short cut for stardom, fabricating quotes, sources, and the overall story, are all unethical moves Stephen made. These unethical decisions led to the fall of Stephen’s journalism career, something foreshadowed when he imagined himself in the classroom during the movie.
Looking at the historical perspective on the issue, this movie pertains precisely to the case of Janet Cooke’s story Jimmy’s World (Jimmy’s World, 1980), when pondering ethics in journalism. Janet Cooke wrote a story about an eight-year-old heroin addict, whom was not a real child, and a made up story in general. Her fabricated story cost her her journalism career and reputation, comparable to Stephen, as he lost his career. In both cases, whether or not they believed they were being ethical in their decisions to compromise these stories, the job of a reporter and journalists is to follow the SPJ Code of Ethics, seeking the truth and reporting it, minimizing harm, acting independently, and being accountable, all aspects in which they did not follow (Lecture 4.2).
If I were put in Stephen’s situation, I would have done things completely different. In no way, shape or form, would I have fabricated any story, let alone more than half my stories. To be honest, when I sat there watching the movie, I thought to myself, why? Why is he doing this to not only himself, but also others that he is misleading? All I though about was the SPJ code of Ethics when watching the movie, and how not one aspect was followed. Stephen did not seek the truth and report it, he made it stories and lied; he didn’t minimize harm, he inflicted harm on himself, his reputation, The New Republic, and those he reported to; yes he did act independently, but in the nature that a journalists should not perform, working alone on stories and making them up and finally; he was not accountable, he was a liar and untrustworthy.
I believe that this movie has an enormous impact on journalism. The movie outlines a situation that journalists should never put themselves in, fabricating stories. Fabrication is not tolerable in journalism and never will be, or else what would the point of a journalist or reporter be? Their jobs would become obsolete because it would give everyone the freedom to make stories up and publish them. The movie also justifies the SPJ Code of Ethics and shows journalists that following the code will only keep you out of trouble. It is unethical to lie, plain and simple, and Shattered Glass (2003) puts a point of emphasis on unethical decisions.


Course Lecture 4.2 – Journalism Ethical Framework

Fabrication. (2015)

Jimmy’s World. (1980)

Shattered Glass. (2003)

Film Challenge #3 – Nothing But the Truth

Nothing But the Truth (2008) displays the difficult situation reporters face when working with sources. In the movie, Capital Sun-Times reporter Rachel Armstrong exposes a CIA operative agent’s identity and refuses to expose her source, amplifying the Supreme Courts defense as it posed a threat to national security. Rachel’s story made the front-page news with the support of her editor and legal counselor, but instead of praise, Rachel was put in front of a grand jury because revealing a CIA operatives identity was a threat to national security. When Rachel catches this, she immediately denies revealing her source and does not budge from her stance, landing years of jail time and separation from her husband and child.

Looking at the historical perspective on the issue, this movie pertains precisely to the case Branzburg v. Hayes (1972), and shield law. The case Branzburg v. Hayes (1972) established that a journalist does not have a constitutional right to refuse to appear and reveal his or her sources in court, and that requiring reporters to disclose confidential information to grand juries served a “compelling and paramount” state interest and did not violate the First Amendment (Branzburg v. Hayes. 1972). The only thing that could have saved Rachel from serving jail time in this situation is shield law. Shield law “provides legal protection for the ‘reporters’ privilege, protecting journalists against the government requiring them to reveal confidential sources” (Lecture 8.1). Because shield law is not protected at the federal level, Rachel had no protection for her story, and had no rights when it came to not giving her source up, being found guilty of obstruction of the court.

If I were put in Rachel’s situation, I don’t know what I would have done to be honest. I like the fact that she refused to reveal her source, sticking to her journalistic beliefs and protecting her source. She stood for her job as a reporter, whether it was just or unjust, and tried to be ethical by keeping her source protected. At the same time though, the movie puts her in such a tough situation because one; the source is a minor, two; the source is the daughter of the CIA operative she exposes in her story, and three; the shield law did not apply to her case, being at the federal level. Because I saw what happened to Rachel; serving jail time and being separated from her husband and son; I also can take the other side. I would have revealed my source to not serve jail time, and be separated from my family. I also would have given up my source if I knew it meant the young girl would be excused from any charges, and the fact that she was the source that ultimately leads to her mothers passing.

I believe the difficult situation Rachel was put in has a great impact on journalism. Fully protecting sources is a topic that is hard pressed because there are so many issues on both sides of the argument. On one side journalists have an obligation to protect their source, especially when the news is on such a large scale. At the same time though, if you always protect your source, who will know exactly what is true and untrue? leaving room to stretch the facts. This shows journalists that with out a shield law, it is difficult to protect your source, especially with federal government involvement. It also shows journalists that before publishing your story, you need to understand your rights and the many boundaries that journalism presents.


Branzburg v. Hayes (1972). OYEZ.

Course Lecture 8.1 – Shield Law

Nothing But the Truth (2008).

Film Challenge #2 – Absence of Malice

Throughout the movie Absence of Malice (1981), ethical and legal issues in journalism are questioned, as reporter Megan Carter of the Miami Standard destroys a mans reputation by publishing a story that is accurate, but not true. Could you imagine waking up in the morning to find your name published on the front of a newspaper, knowing that the story is not true, and that all the sudden you are looked upon as a guilty criminal? According to lecture, ethics is defined as “an analysis, evaluation and promotion of correct conduct and or good character, according to the best available standard” (Lecture 4.1). Because ethics is very subjective, many may view Carter’s actions ethical, many unethical. When Carter gets light of the Michael Gallagher case, she approaches federal prosecutor Eliot Rosen for information, but is unsuccessful. Though she is unsuccessful, this does not stop her, as she steals information she finds in a portfolio left on Rosen’s desk, the same information she uses to create her published story. Right here we see an ethical dilemma. Unethically, Carter snooped through a federal officers portfolio and stole information that could have been correct or incorrect to her knowledge, publishing the story anyway before consulting Gallagher, the accused man. Contrary though, was she ethically doing her job as a reporter? Gathering information on a story of a deceased man to publish to the public?

With the idea of “the public has the right to know a few things” as said by Carter, legal issues in her actions arise as well. According to lecture, defamation is defined as a “false statement about another person, which causes that person to suffer harm” (Lecture 6.1) and can be further defined as a type of defamation called Libel, “making defamatory statements in a printed or fixed medium, such as a magazine or newspaper” (Lecture 6.1). Carter’s decision to publish the story of Gallagher was not only ethically debatable, but also legally debatable, as she published a story that not only diminished Gallagher’s reputation as a man, but liquor business as well. We learned in lecture that Libel is rooted in history, beginning with Seditious Libel; crime to criticize the government, and the Sedition Act of 1798; crime to write false, scandalous, and malicious statements (Lecture 6.1). In saying this, do Carter’s actions in publishing the defamatory story fall under libel? Or is she protected by the 1st Amendment, in which James Madison crafted to give citizens open dialog?

If I were put in Carter’s position, I would have handled situation differently, not putting anyone in jeopardy. First, I would not have published the story without confronting Gallagher beforehand for numerous reasons. One being the fact that the stolen information could be incorrect, two; the fact that if I do publish the story, I could be diminishing someone’s reputation; three, if I do publish the information and it is incorrect, I just committed defamation, something we saw in the New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) case. Secondly, I would not have become so emotionally and personally attached to Gallagher if I were Carter. Emotion and personal feelings as a reporter is a tough situation to put yourself in, especially when the ongoing story is the one you are attached to.

I believe the ethical and legal issues in this movie greatly impact journalism. The actions of Megan Carter throughout the entire movie display both ethical and legal dilemmas in journalism, from stealing federal documents, to publishing a false story and committing defamation, bugging herself in an interview, and becoming emotionally and personally attached to her story. Though she is not the only one who questions ethics, (i.e. Rosen leaking false reports, Gallagher training Teresa what to say to the press, etc.) she is the center of attention, being the initial publisher of the story that was untrue. On top of this, I fell this movie impacts journalism because it really shows how journalists and reporters do not care for those they are publishing about. Yes towards the end of the movie Carter feels guilty for what she did and has a personal relationship with Gallagher, but when she originally published the story, she did not care about Gallagher at all. We see this all the time in society today, newspapers, blogs, and magazines printing stories that are far from the truth in some cases just to get a rise out of society and have good ratings. Because of this movie, I believe journalists will think twice before committing defamatory statements, and learn from the ethical and legal dilemmas displayed.


Absence of Malice. (1981).

Course Lecture 4.1 – Introduction to Journalism Ethics

Course Lecture 6.1 – Libel

New York Times v. Sullivan. (1964).

Film Challenge #1 – All The President’s Men

When it comes to ethical issues in journalism and the media, All The President’s Men (1976), represents exactly the dilemma of what is understood to be ethically correct and wrong, and how perceptions are made from such issues. Ethics is defined as an analysis, evaluation and promotion of correct conduct and or good character, according to the best available standard (Lecture 4.1). The movie in entirety is about President Nixon’s Watergate Scandal, where he sanctioned “dirty tricks” while in office. He approved events and gave permission on things such as bugging the offices of political opponents, sanctioning fake letters, using stolen documents, and hiring spies, raising a major ethical debate on right verses wrong. Likewise, Deep Throat, a member of Nixon’s presidential office, was secretly feeding Bob Woodward of The Washington Post the information he needed to report the scandal to the nation. Right here we see an ethical issue of debate, as the information could be correct or incorrect, and because the source was “anonymous”, it may not be credible. Ethically, was Deep Throat trying to provide information to the press about a President committing a conspiracy? Unethically, secretly meeting with Woodward in a parking garage, feeding him bits and pieces of the Presidents wrongdoings behind his back?

Furthermore, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were forced to make ethical decisions as journalists. Seeking the truth and reporting it, minimizing harm, acting independently, and being accountable, outline the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) code of ethics, raising debate on how well Woodward and Bernstein followed this outline (Lecture 4.2). When Woodward and Bernstein tried to seek the truth, they used sources that wanted to remain anonymous and were very persistent when it came to these sources not wanting to talk. Was it ethically correct to go to their homes and ask the questions they did in the manner they did just for a lead? When they began reporting the story, the realization of how big the story could actually be did not sink in until they began situating potential sources in danger of losing jobs, or being followed, etc. When they showed up at these homes, they insisted on talking to the potential source, no matter if they said they felt endangered, or did not want to speak at all. Ethical? To society and the normal person, this seems to be invasive and unethical in many ways, but to Woodward and Bernstein, this may have been fine, given the nature of their job. Alternatively, Woodward and Bernstein may have known their ways were unethical, but because of the nature of the story and pressures they encountered, they knew it had to be done to publish a successful story.

Because of the position Woodward and Bernstein were in, I feel they handled this situation well. In journalism and reporting, it is your job to find information at all costs and release the information for the nation to see, ethics aside. Woodward and Bernstein had no emotional connection to the scandal, so I feel they were more obligated to take the story on, from the stance that a President of The United States was wrongfully leading the nation, plain and simple. If I were in their shoes, I would have done the same thing. Woodward and Bernstein did nothing to affect the law illegally, vowing to keep their sources anonymous, and knew that they were protected under the First Amendment, Freedom of Press and Speech. They simply wanted to reach the bottom of the scandal, and unfold all the unethical moves of the President.

All in all, both Woodward and Bernstein were put in difficult situations as journalists when dealing with this case. The magnitude of the case weighed in on the decisions Woodward and Bernstein made, both ethically and unethically. Because there is such a fine line when it comes to ethics, this movie is a personal judgment on how you base correct conduct and or good character. Woodward and Bernstein succeed with reporting the Watergate Scandal, setting standards for journalism and the job of a reporter, showing that there is more to the story sometimes, especially with the government.


All The President’s Men. (1976).

Course Lecture 4.1 – Introduction to Journalism Ethics

Course Lecture 4.2 – Journalism Ethical Framework

FBI’s No. 2 Was ‘Deep Throat’: Mark Felt Ends 30-Year Mystery of The Post’s Watergate Source. (2005).