A Second Look at the Mizzou Uproar, Pros and Cons


thefederalist.com photo


By Casey Bukro

Since all the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists consultants teach on campuses across the country, it seemed logical to ask them how they and their students reacted to events that played out at the University of Missouri over press freedoms and protests over racial tensions.

An earlier AdviceLine blog post focused on what appeared to be an attack on First Amendment press freedoms when faculty member Melissa Click attempted to banish two student photographers from the protest scene, for which she later apologized.

Hugh Miller, assistant professor of philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, took what he called a contrarian view.

“I disagree,” said Miller, citing a lawyer friend who pointed out that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution “is a restriction imposed upon the state, not upon individuals…. It imposes no restrictions on individuals.

“Reporters are perfectly free to jam a microphone in my face – no government authority can prevent them from doing so. And I am perfectly free to tell such reporters to get stuffed if I don’t want to talk or have them around. In so doing I do not violate the First Amendment. The First Amendment is not, IMHO [in my humble opinion], a license for journalists to demand, and get, access to coverage.

“Whether the contested access is on public property makes little difference to the First Amendment issue (though it may be important in a property rights sense). Nor does the First Amendment impose duties or obligations upon individuals to afford journalists the opportunity to cover them.

“I think it is the dean of the Mizzou journalism school who was in error when he stated, ‘The news media have First Amendment rights to cover public events.’ They have only the right not to be stopped in ‘covering’ events by agents of the state. They have no right not to be stopped by individuals, in this case the individuals being ‘covered.'”

“I place the word ‘covered’ in scare quotes, since many of the students involved have, also IMHO, legitimate complaints about the ways their lives and grievances have been portrayed in mainstream media treatments.”

Among the signs posted during the protest at an improvised tent city was one that read, “No media safe space.”

On Facebook,  Bill Osborne, writing about Mizzou, said “fascist behavior, whether from the right or the left, is reprehensible. Our college and university campuses should be centers of free speech, but increasingly, coteries of intellectual fascists are dictating who may say what.”

Miller took exception, saying: “I think you are overreacting. I can assure you, as a university professor with a wide acquaintance of other such teachers at other colleges and universities, that no one is ‘dictating who may say what.’ No, freedom of speech is alive and well on college and university campuses.

“But your use of the term ‘coteries of intellectual fascists’ illustrates an important point, I think. Much reporting by the mainstream media has depicted protesters as wanting to censor free speech, when what they are really protesting has been exactly such inaccurate stories about their real grievances.”

A Washington Post article offered similar thoughts. Others may differ. Paul Bonicelli of The Federalist had this to say about “campus chaos.”

The Mizzou protests offered a “teachable moment,” triggering classroom discussions.

David Craig, a professor and associate dean at the University of Oklahoma, said:

“Our discussion grew out of watching the video of the student journalist working for ESPN who went in with his camera and the end of the video when the other student journalist shooting the video was confronted by Melissa Click. The short of it was that my students felt strongly that these journalists were free (in an ethical sense) to report on the activity of a public protest. They thought privacy was not an overriding concern in that specific setting, though they noted it could be if a journalist chose to press things further and go into more private space.”

Timothy McNulty, a lecturer and co-director of the National Security Journalism Initiative at the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University, said Mizzou was discussed in his editing class.

“Those who spoke out blamed Missouri school leaders for failing to address recurring issues of racism on campus. The journalism issue, as I recall, was pretty straightforward (these are journalism students, after all). (It was) that the photographers and reporters not only had a right but also a duty to record the protest and demonstrations.

“The communications school professor was wrong, as she admitted later, and it was important for the students as well as the public at large to understand the role of journalists in shining a light on the actions of the protesters and the inaction of the administration.”

Nancy Matchett  is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado. For the past 15 years, she has taught an applied ethics course every term, in which students select the specific issues on which to focus after discussing ethical theory and critical thinking.

“No group has ever chosen free speech, even in the years when I assigned a textbook containing a chapter on the issue. I no longer use textbooks at all, and students are required to draw from current case studies when deciding what we will explore — they still don’t appear to see free speech — or privacy — as a pressing moral concern.

“They are more interested in questions about physician-assisted suicide (this is probably due to the large number of nursing students who come through my course), environmental ethics, capital punishment, global poverty, gun control, the ethics of war and drug use.

“On the other hand, in all of my courses students seem deeply committed to the idea that the right way to respond to ugly or offensive or otherwise troubling speech is with more and better speech. When issues about ‘offensive’ ideas and what counts as a reasoned position come up, I find them to be fairly thoughtful on the benefits and need for open conversation.”

Lee Anne Peck is a professor of journalism, also at the University of Northern Colorado. Privacy, she believes, is the key legal issue raised by Mizzou and the tent city erected by protesters. Peck offered a link to a Missouri law firm’s website, which referred to privacy as “the right to be left alone.”

Violations of that right, Peck pointed out, would include intrusion upon seclusion, public disclosure of private facts and misappropriation of a person’s identity.

These AdviceLine gurus and their students demonstrate that there are many ways to view what happened, and is happening, at the University of Missouri.

Mizzou Students and Faculty Flunk Press Freedom Test

Heated: Activists at the University of Missouri were caught on camera forcing photographer Tim Tai (left) off the public quad on Monday, during their celebrations over the resignation of President Tim Wolfe

Photographer Tim Tai explains First Amendment

By Casey Bukro

Amid the chaos of student and faculty protests over racial tensions at the University of Missouri, student photographers Tim Tai and Mark Schierbecker stood out as young men who understood their First Amendment rights to photograph and videotape the historic event in a public place.

Sadly, Tai and Schierbecker were badgered, harassed and bullied by students and faculty while trying to do their jobs.

Schierbecker videotaped Tai as he was harangued, surrounded and pushed by a crowd of students and older individuals who held their hands in front of his camera and would not allow him to move forward.

“We will just block you,” says one. “You need to go.”

Others chanted, “hey, hey, ho, ho. Reporters have got to go.”

Another says, “You gotta go, bro. You lost this battle, bro. Just back up.”

To his credit, Tai stood his ground and explained patiently, “The First Amendment protects your right to be here and mine.” He added, “I’ve got a job to do.”

Continue reading Mizzou Students and Faculty Flunk Press Freedom Test

A Code of Ethics All Your Own

By Casey Bukro

Everyone is in favor of ethics, until you get into the details. That’s when the fights break out.

This is something the Online News Association is likely to learn as it makes its way through a project called the Build Your Own Ethics Code. Journalists are invited to crowdsource and document their ethical practices.

Code of Ethics
Can Stock Photo

I have some personal experience in this realm. Back in 1972, I was national professional development committee chairman for Sigma Delta Chi, later named the Society of Professional Journalists.

The public, then as now, tended to have a low opinion of journalists. A public opinion poll in 1972 showed only 19 percent of the public had confidence in the press. Garbage collectors ranked higher.

Hoping to counteract that, delegates at the 1972 convention in Dallas adopted a resolution asking the group to do something about that low image of American journalists. That resolution was sent to my committee.

We decided to write a code of ethics reflecting SDX values and standards, acting on a constitutional mandate to inform the public as part of journalism’s role in a democracy. We wanted to show that journalists do have standards, and can act in an ethical manner.

Continue reading A Code of Ethics All Your Own

A Reporter Discovers the Pain of Being Ethical

By Casey Bukro

It’s hard to be good and ethical. Sometimes it comes at a cost.

Amelia Pang, metro reporter for Epoch Times in New York, discovered this when she called the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists in 2012 and asked a question that AdviceLine gets sometimes:

When calling a news source, is it necessary for reporter to admit to being a reporter? That is, not say that she is a reporter, unless asked?

It is a question that arises among young reporters, those learning the ropes or those who work for organizations without printed standards or spelled out ethical guidelines that can leave a reporter wondering what to do.

In Pang’s case, she called AdviceLine on advice from a colleague.

“I am doing an article about a controversial homeless shelter in New York City,” Pang told AdviceLine adviser Hugh Miller, an assistant professor of philosophy who teaches ethics at Loyola University Chicago.

“The shelter is located in a very rich area, therefore many residents have been quite unhappy about it. The shelter has received a lot of bad press since they opened last year, and now they are reluctant to talk to any media.”

Continue reading A Reporter Discovers the Pain of Being Ethical

Killing the Messenger, Live: Journalists Killed on Video

By Casey Bukro

Killing the messenger takes new meaning when you see it live, in living color, as happened in the deaths of a Virginia television news reporter and her cameraman.

WDBJ correspondent Alison Parker was conducting an on-air interview in a Moneta, Va., shopping center when she and the photographer, Adam Ward, were shot and killed by a disgruntled former colleague who also videotaped the attack and put it on social media.

The New York Daily News gave the murders front-page display, in very graphic detail than some TV outlets shunned.

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Killings on video are increasingly common these days. Journalists are among those targeted now, becoming victims and not just reporters of  events. Parker and Ward’s names are now added to a list that included James Foley and Daniel Pearl.

Tech-savvy killers use social media and the internet these days to show their crimes.

The Islamic State group released a video in 2014 showing Foley, clad in an orange gown, kneeling on the ground next to a man dressed in black holding a knife. Foley makes a short statement and then is decapitated.

In 2002, Pearl, a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, disappeared while on assignment in Karachi, Pakistan. Video shown around the world via the Internet showed Arab extremists cutting his throat, then decapitating the reporter.

In this world of social media, terrorists don’t need reporters to tell their message. Terrorists can do that themselves now, and one way of doing that is killing reporters.

Continue reading Killing the Messenger, Live: Journalists Killed on Video

Charlie Hebdo’s Dead Boy Cartoon Triggers Global Ire

Photo published for Charlie Hebdo Mocks The Death of Syrian Child Aylan Kurdi

Nilufer Demir/Reuters photo

By Casey Bukro

Charlie Hebdo, the French satire newspaper, published a cartoon of a drowned 3-year-old boy and showed why codes of ethics should warn against satirical cruelty.

Satire can be cruel, inspiring or infuriating. Maybe all at once. But are there limits to this form of freedom of expression?

Charlie Hebdo clearly touched a nerve by joking about the boy lying facedown in the surf of a Turkish beach, after drowning with his mother and a brother while attempting to flee war-torn Syria, becoming a stark symbol of Europe’s growing migrant crisis.

The cartoon was based on photos of the boy, first described as Aylan Kurdi and corrected later as Alan Kurdi.

“The haunting photograph of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian boy whose lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach last week, has been inescapable; even if you’ve just seen it once, it’s an image you can’t forget,” wrote Carolyn O’Hara, managing editor of The Week magazine.

O’Hara compared it with other grim photos of the past that forced the world to confront some tragic realities, such as the the 1972 photo of a naked Vietnamese girl screaming in agony from napalm burns, the 1993 image of a vulture stalking a starving Sudanese toddler and the hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner with outstretched arms.

It could be argued that these images served a greater purpose. Can the same be said about Charlie Hebdo?

Continue reading Charlie Hebdo’s Dead Boy Cartoon Triggers Global Ire

Health Care Freelancers Face Tough Ethics Challenges

By David Ozar and Casey Bukro

Freelancing is a tough way to make a living – even tougher as downsized journalists turn to freelancing.

For writers specializing in health care, it’s especially challenging because of the ethics issues faced in navigating the cross connections between clients who want stories written for them or about them. Or both.

“Ethical guidelines for subspecialties may vary,” Tara Haelle in an email exchange with the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists.

A freelancer herself, Haelle traced the obstacles in a story that appeared on the Association of Health Care Journalists website.

Tara Haelle
Tara Haelle

Haelle calls it the conflict-of-interest maze: “Ensuring that work for one client doesn’t create a conflict for another, present or future.” Though that might sound simple, Haelle said it isn’t because freelancers work for companies, journalism publications, universities and foundations or as consultants.

Haelle went to several sources, asking how she can avoid ethical conflicts of interests under the conditions in which she works and found that ethical guidelines vary. One source said “there’s no clear answer.” Another said journalists should “decide for ourselves what we think is ethical behavior.”

That sounded like a challenge for the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists, which has a staff of five university ethicists to answer questions of the kind posed by Haelle.

One of them, David Ozar, is professor of social and professional ethics in the department of philosophy at Loyola University Chicago. AdviceLine asked Ozar to read Haelle’s story and offer his perspective on how he would have answered her call for guidance on ethics.

Continue reading Health Care Freelancers Face Tough Ethics Challenges

Ombudsman: ‘Loneliest Job in the Newsroom’

Kathy English
Kathy English, Toronto Star public editor (Toronto Star photo by Lucas Oleniuk)

By Casey Bukro

I’m a sucker for stories about news ombudsmen, or public editors or readers representatives, even though they are branded these days. I can’t help myself. It’s a compulsion, an addiction.

Think about it: An ombudsman might walk up to the top boss and tell him he’s wrong. She might pick through the details of a complicated story, then defend a reporter for doing a thankless, difficult or even dangerous job, or discover that a reporter did not go far enough to find the truth, and then say so publicly.

It’s almost heroic.

I suppose I also admire ombudsmen because what they do is so idealistic: speaking up without fear or favor, letting the chips fall where they may.

Maybe that’s why there are only about 20 of them working at American news outlets today, according to a Politico article, “The State of the Ombudsman in 2015.” That’s about half as many as a decade ago, according to USA Today.

Still, ombudsmen in the U.S. and elsewhere trudge on.

Kathy English, public editor of the Toronto Star in Canada, recently wrote an article titled, “So what does the public editor do?” Readers had asked her to explain her job, which she’s done for eight years.

Continue reading Ombudsman: ‘Loneliest Job in the Newsroom’

Bomb Threats Tilt GamerGate Event

SPJ AirPlay panel
SPJ AirPlay panel (SPJ Florida photo)

By Casey Bukro

GamerGate from its beginning a year ago seemed touched by lunacy, and that was borne out when bomb threats forced the abrupt closure of a video-game program in Miami.

The Society of Professional Journalists event AirPlay aimed to pin down the social-media campaign GamerGate – whether it’s about journalism ethics and accurate reporting about the video-game industry, attacks on women in the male-dominated industry, or resistance to political correctness and censorship. Or something else.

The conference goal was to “make a good gaming press better, or a bad gaming press good,” said Michael Koretzky, an SPJ regional director who organized and moderated. The conference “concocted some novel yet practical ideas for achieving that,” he said, such as an SPJ award for games journalism or recruiting games media critics.

A Twitter feed and hashtag and a YouTube channel suggest the event provoked lively discussion. SPJ secretary/treasurer Lynn Walsh said “if mainstream media jumps on this, it should be done well and ethically.”

Topics included plagiarism, fabrication, anonymity, fair reporting and the performance of Gamer writers. Koretzky asked about a “troll patrol,” how to vet or write about their social-media statements, and how to expose anonymous digital mischief-makers.

Then it all ground to a halt.

Miami police cleared the building after a series of bomb threats, UPI reported. Breitbart.com reported that the event got 10 bomb threats before police stopped the program and moved participants out of the building and into the streets.

Koretsky said two separate conferences in the building drew about 135 participants, of which about 60 attended the AirPlay event.

AirPlay was supposed to teach us something about GamerGate. AdviceLine asked Koretzky what the abbreviated conference taught him.

“I learned I was right about one thing,” Koretsky responded in an email. “Face-to-face opens minds. As for the bomb threat, it was awesome. It happened only 30 minutes before we ended, and it made @SPJAirPlay trend worldwide.”

Such threats are not new to GamerGate. Earlier this year a bomb threat cleared 300 people from a Washington, D.C., event aimed at GamerGate supporters. And Anita Sarkeesian, creator of a video series of pop-culture critiques, canceled an appearance at Utah State University last year because of the threat of a mass shooting.

AdviceLine asked Koretzky if continued threats of violence prove that some of those GamerGate folks really are nuts.

“I knew some GGers were nuts from the get-go,” he said. “But I learned just how many aren’t. I’d say it’s 50-50 &ndash which might offend both sides. But really, that’s a ringing GG endorsement, since so many folks told me the stat was 100 percent.”

And what else did he learn from the event?

“I’ve been talking to some gaming journalists post-AirPlay about why it wasn’t covered. Interestingly, the reporters are cool, editors are not. So once again, it’s age more than philosophy.”

As for his next move, Koretzky said he’s considering hosting a feminism-and-media debate.

Mark Samenfink, a lifelong gamer, wrote that he was frustrated by the way the Miami GamerGate event ended.

“This feels like a hollow victory,” Samenfink wrote. “But since at least half of the event took place (and was streamed live, worldwide), it’s not completely hollow. I was excited all day, my hype was real, I sat down to watch the debates and was overjoyed by them, but this … it just killed the mood.”

Did the gaming press cover the event?

“No,” said Koretzky, “just the bomb threats, and some not even that. It says more in defense of GG than anything else to date.”


GamerGate Revisited: Is It Really About Journalism Ethics?


By Casey Bukro

Is GamerGate about ethical violations in video-game journalism?

Or is GamerGate just a smokescreen for harassing women who want to work in the male-dominated gaming industry?

Or is it something else?

A live-streamed debate will sort it out Aug. 15 in Miami.

Elements in the controversy include the $15 billion video game industry, the video game press, game reviewers, developers, commentators and those who sell advertising in gaming magazines. It’s a volatile mixture.

Michael Koretzky, a regional director for the Society of Professional Journalists, organized the conference and will moderate. His region covers Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. Sponsors are the region and SPJ Florida.

AdviceLine questioned Koretzky on the key issues:

Continue reading GamerGate Revisited: Is It Really About Journalism Ethics?