Ethical challenge: Can anybody prove that Modern Journalism has a real code of ethics? Didn’t think so. 1/6/08Posted by Steve Boriss in Ethics.
Octogenarian Helen Thomas, known by some as the “Dean of the White House press corps,” whined the other day that “bloggers and everyone…with a laptop thinks they’re journalists…They don’t have our ethics.” Given that journalism never established itself as a true profession with features such as governing bodies, licensing procedures, continuing education requirements, or an official code of ethics, it’s fair to ask what exactly are the ethics that journalists practice that the rest of us don’t. Sure, you can find some lists that purport to be codes of ethics from journalism enterprises like the Society of Professional Journalists or the NY Times. But if you actually take the time to read them, you will see that they are completely useless in day-to-day newsroom decision-making, providing virtually no firm definitions of clear violations, other than obvious abuses like plagiarism and fabrications that any blogger concerned about his reputation and credibility would follow.
In fact, several ethical principles that many bloggers follow simply because they are decent human beings are frequently violated by the mainstream media. Let’s start with an obvious one — do not break the law. The NY Times is actually proud when it shares classified information. It defends its behavior not upon whether it may harm the country, but on the tautology that the public has a “right to know” — which is always conveniently whatever the Times wants to publish. Do nothing to encourage criminal behavior? Too bad that NBC didn’t have that ethical rule handy when they decided to show footage of the VA Tech sniper presenting himself as a heroic martyr. How about treat your news subjects as if they are innocent until proven guilty? Tell that to the Duke lacrosse team. Respect the privacy of the grieving? Here’s an article (see bottom paragraph) where the Times admits to being the first to tell an aunt, already grieving from the 9/11 death of her pilot brother, that her niece died, helpfully adding “She burst into tears on the phone and would not comment further.”
Admit, correct, and apologize for errors immediately and publicly? We’re still waiting for Dan Rather to come clean on the forged memo about President Bush’s service in the Texas National Guard. Courageously expose evil? CNN’s Eason Jordan admitted to covering-up Saddam Hussein’s atrocities to keep his Baghdad bureau open. And, that’s actually better than the NY Times’ Walter Duranty who, without remorse, accepted a Pulitzer Prize for stories that covered-up the millions of Ukranian lives snuffed-out by Stalin.