There are many examples of a lack of ethics in Journalism. Some of these practices include: Deception, giving misinformation, editorializing, and conflict of interest. These practices can not only hurt others, but can cause the public to stop trusting Journalists. These problems have been around since the beginning of Journalism and can still be seen everywhere. Just look at your local news each night. They run sensationalized stories that are more about bring in ratings then informing the ppublic about important issues. In addition to this, it’s a safe bet that at least once during the broadcast, the reporter will say something like “such a tragedy” or “I hope they catch that guy.” This is clearly not the objectivity Journalists are supposed to strive for. More and more, we are seeing this kid of reporting. The kind that values scandal over importance and ratings over ethics. Programs are more interested in talking about Anna Nicole Smith’s baby or Lindsay Lohan’s latest scandal then anything that will actually be of importance to the viewers. This is just one problem that has plauged Journalism.
Deception is another big issue today. It takes many forms and isn’t always easy to spot. One form of deception is giving the impression you witnessed the event you are writing about when you did not. Tom Goldstein, author of “The News at Any Cost” admitted to being guilty of this himself. He recalls writing an article about Senator Alfonse D’Amato in 1982. His editor liked the draft he submitted, but the story was sat on for too long and needed revisions to make it work. He ended up discussing an event he had never based on interviews and other research. The way he told the story, however, made it seem as though he had actually been there. Even though he had not been there, he had actually gone out of his way to get the facts right. Some reporters don’t.
A stringer for the New York Times decided to play a trick that went very wrong. He was supposed to prepare a list of award winners from his college. He added a category that went to a character from “The Sun Also Rises” by Hemingway. He was let go, but eventually brought back. That’s not the worst, though. That would be Jimmy’s World. This series, published in 1980, was about an 8-year-old Heroin addict. Readers, as well as the Mayor of the city were concered and wanted to step in and help. The only problem here is, there was no Jimmy. She had made the whole story up and was caught when she could not provide proof. The story had even won a Puliitzer. Of course, the award was taken away once the deception was discovered.
Another form of deception is, of course, plagerism. Taking someone else’s work for your own. A reporter for The National Observer in Washington submitted word-for-word a piece from another publication he had not written. Tom Archdeacan of the Miami News used a whole part of a book in one of his articles. The author happened to read the article and took action. The book was not very popular, so it is possible he never would have been found out if the author had not seen this article.
Misinformation is another issue. In 1981, it as widely reported that President Carter was bugging the Blair House when Incoming President Reagan was preparing for his first term. Later on, it was discovered the source had simply confirmed that a tape of Mrs. Regan existed. He never said that the house itself had been bugged by anyone. Another example is when the wire services gave different interpretations of a 1983 Supreme Court Decision. Democat Mario Cuomo was quoted by the New York Times as saying that President Reagan was a liar. Cuomo later issued a television statement correcting this.
Getting facts like these wrong doesn’t just hurt the paper’s reputation- it can also cause problems for the subject of the misinformation. Brian Taugher, who was once a District Attorny, was accused of child molestation. He was arrested with nothing more then one child’s word and all the papers ran with it. When he was later found innocent, he spoke out about Media’s handling of the case, saying it was going to make children with real claims seem like liars. The Dallas Cowboys were subject to embarrassment as well in 1985 when the Dallas Times Herald published a story accusing members of the team of point shaving and drug use. The source of the charges was an FBI agent with a sketchy history who got all his information from drug dealers. Finally, we have the case of Geraldine Ferarro, the first woman candidate for Vice President. It was discovered that her father-in-law had ties to the mafia. Despite the fact Geraldine herself had nothing to do with him and there was no evidence to say she did, papers ran with it.
In addition to all this, some of the tactics reporters use have helped to tarnish the image of Journalism and cause the public to lose faith in what they say. How many times have you seen a reporter shoving a mic in someone’s face and asking “How do you feel?” after they have just received some devastating news? When terrorists in Beruit killed many soldiers, reporters everything possible to get reaction, including paying children to help find addresses of victims families. One station actually aired footage of the family being notified of what had happened. Watch a special report and your sure to see car chases and other similar things aired live when anything can happen. I’ve even heard of reporters lying about who they are to get close to grieving families. Besides that, they resort to scare tactics to promote stories. Often they have a teaser with an intimidating voice telling you about the thing in your house that can kill you… of course, to find out what it is you have to tune into the 11 PM report.
There are many ethical issues in Journalism that have led to people losing jobs, awards and being publically humiliated. Reporters must adhere to the high standards set by the profession regarding fair and honest reporting if they are to avoid lawsuits and other problems in the future.
Sources: “The Virtuous Journalist” by Tom L. Beauchamp and Stephan Klaidman. Published in 1987.
“Believing News: A Poynter Ethics Center Report” Editor Don Fry. No date given.
“The News at Any Cost” by Tom Goldstein. 1985
“Ethical Journalism: A Guide for Students, Practitioners, and Consumers” by Philip Meyer. 1987