Film Challenge #3; Nothing But the Truth

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The 2008 film Nothing But The Truth details the conflict that can arise from a reporter withholding sources. The film’s female protagonist, Rachel Armstrong, faces the wrath of the government when she reveals the name of an undercover CIA agent in a story for the Washington Sun Times.

This story lands Armstrong under investigation from a federal prosecutor to find out who her source is. The biggest question this film raises is whether or not it was worth it for Rachel to withhold her source and go to jail under contempt of court, or if she should have revealed her source to the government to be reunited with her husband and son.

There was one point in the film in which Rachel’s attorney started to ask her to reveal her source. It is at this point that I feel she made an extremely compelling argument. She stated that because she was a woman, she was expected to give up and go home to her husband and son and if she were a man it would be a different story. She decided to not give up the source and stay detained, much to the surprise of those around her.

As a journalist, Rachel promised her source anonymity. The reason the government was so desperate to find get her to reveal her source was because it is considered a treasonous offence to reveal the identity of a covert operative. That means that whoever her source was could be considered as a national threat. Rachel did not reveal her source throughout the entire film, until the end we find out that it was the CIA operative’s young daughter who revealed her mother’s identity.

The act of withholding this source landed Rachel in several trials, and ultimately prison. As we learned in the case of Branzburg v. Hayes, receiving information in confidence does not privilege a journalist to withhold the name of a source during a government investigation.

If I were placed in this position, I would be extremely torn as far as what I should do. I felt frustrated that she kept withholding the source at the beginning of the film. But once I realized who her source was; an innocent young girl who asked to stay anonymous, I understood why she was taking this so seriously. As a mother herself, she did not want to put that little girl in danger any more than she already had. If I had a source like that, I believe I would have withheld the source as well.

Cases like this impact journalistic decisions every day. Not only does this film question whether or not to reveal a source under a government investigation, it questions how to deal with anonymous sources. In this film specifically, both children and inebriated adults are brought into play questioning how to deal with sources who do not understand the consequences of what they are saying.


Film Challenge #2: Absence of Malice

The 1981 movie Absence of Malice brings about a lot of ethical questions that are still relevant in journalism today. The main character, a journalist named Megan Carter, finds an interesting lead about a man named Michael Gallagher and decides to follow through with it. As a journalist, I feel I would have followed suit in similar ways that she did with this story.

To get more information on the story about Gallagher, Megan met with a worker in the department of justice and looked at the files on his desk when he left the room. While it is illegal to look at government files unauthorized, getting sources from government files is protected by privilege, and no further sources need to be acquired.

Later in the film, Megan reveals personal information about a woman’s abortion in an article, to prove Michael is innocent. The woman begged Megan not to print it, but because she did not specify that it be off the record, Megan printed it anyway. In response to seeing that Megan printed the story about the woman who got the abortion, that woman killed herself.

From an ethics standpoint, Megan did no wrong by publishing this story. It was on the record, further proved Michael to be innocent. But from a moral standpoint, it would have been extremely hard to publish a story that was so delicate and important to someone. If Megan knew the woman was going to kill herself if that story was published, I do not think she would have even questioned publishing it.

Another thing Megan Carter did for this story was work closely with Michael Gallagher, the man she was reporting about. At the beginning, she only called him once with no answer and did not seek him out again. This enraged him, so he sought her out and she decided to take advantage of this relationship for more information.

At first, Megan and Michael’s relationship was strictly professional. They met from time to time for interviews, which gradually turned into boat rides and a deeper connection. Eventually, they grew intimate which caused a lot of controversy. A picture was taken of the two of them holding hands, which was incredibly careless of Megan.

When working with sources, a journalist must stay professional. As she was writing about his innocence, pictures came out of them holding hands making it seem like she was only writing those things because of their personal relationship. Although I agreed with most of her decisions, I would never have gotten intimate with the source of a story I was currently working on, there is too much grey area and possible conflicts that could arise.

This film portrayed a journalist facing issues of libel, source relations, and revelation of private facts. Reporter Megan Carter ended up fine, as most protagonists often do. She made some questionable decisions but I think overall I would have reacted in the same ways that she did. She worked hard to get a story no one else had covered, which is what any good journalist would have done.Source: google images

Film Challenge #1: All the President’s Men

In comm. 3404, our goal is to learn about media law and ethics through various films. The first film we watched is the 1976 film All the President’s Men. This film focuses on journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein investigated the Watergate scandal, and stretched some ethical boundaries along the way.

We learned in class that the Society of Professional Journalists has a code of ethics stating that journalists must “Seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable”. After watching this movie I noticed how Woodward and Bernstein did their best to stick to this code, with a few possible violations.

The two did seek truth, but given the serious nature of the story they were dealing with a lot of anonymous sources like “Deep Throat” which made it difficult for them to identify many sources.

Source: google images

As much as the journalists may have tried to minimize harm, their breaking of the story did result in the punishment of many government employees, but rightfully so in my opinion.

Woodward and Bernstein stayed independent, unbiased and unattached. As far as I saw in the film, they used no sources they had personal relationships with, but did ask co-workers to contact such sources.

Lastly, the two were accountable. As journalists often do when working together, they checked each others work constantly and held each other completely accountable. That is why to this day their names are attached to the breaking of the watergate scandal.


While this story would still be a huge story if something similar to it broke today, it might have broken sooner due to the technology advancements of our time. Social media has been known to break stories first lately, not to mention heightened security technology might have caught the Watergate burglars before anyone else.

Regardless, I think Woodard and Bernstein handled the overall situation well and got it out as soon as possible. They were both undoubtedly professional and dedicated. Given the vast and serious nature of the story they were working on, the anonymous sources and harming of the reputations of government employees  was absolutely necessary. Because everything they printed was true, it was not libel so the journalists had every right to publish the story.

The persistence of Woodward and Bernstein shaped the way Americans saw journalists and government officials for many years. The printing of such a big story that so few people knew about at the time made people aware that journalism could influence opinions and change the world. This also sparked an era of distrust of the government, especially among young people. Once all of this controversy and scandal was printed for the public to see, the government received no shortage of criticism and distrust for several years.