In Trump’s Locker Room Culture, Billy Bush Caught the Fungus

By Casey Bukro

Usually, a journalist at the center of an explosive story would be congratulated. Not Billy Bush.

Billy Bush.
Billy Bush suspended in wake of Donald Trump making lewd comments. Wikimedia photo

He’s the one cackling and giggling in the background of the 2005 tape as Donald Trump brags about kissing and groping beautiful women. “I just start kissing them,” Trump says. “It’s like a magnet. I just kiss. I don’t even wait.”

Egged on by Bush, Trump adds the remark about grabbing women by the genitals, using an obscene term, saying, “I can do anything.”

Released on the eve of the 2016 elections, the tape has been played countless times as commentators speculate about its likely impact on Trump’s chances of being elected president as the GOP contender.

No need to wonder about Bush, Trump’s enabler in that episode. NBC suspended him as a co-host of the “Today” show.

Bush was co-anchor of “Access Hollywood” at the time the tape was made. NBCUniveral Television Distribution, with NBC-owned station KNBC, has been solely responsible for producing “Access Hollywood” since 2004.

Bush was a rising star until the video train wreck. It might be a stretch to call him a journalist.

Television personalities often consider themselves entertainers or performers who want to put on a show. Brian Williams, for example, gave himself credit for doing things he did not do, making his reports more exciting until NBC learned of his fabrications, then suspended and reassigned him. Makes you wonder if these guys ever heard of journalism ethics.

William Hall “Billy” Bush is the nephew of former President George H.W. Bush and cousin of former President George W. Bush and former Florida Gov. John Ellis “Jeb” Bush.

The website MediaShift says Bush’s story “should serve as a cautionary tale for our modern age of journalism, where social media and reality television have oblitered the line between reporting the news and becoming part of it.”

Bush was a rising star until the video train wreck. It might be a stretch to call him a journalist.

Still making comparisons with journalism, MediaShift writer Maggie Quale says “Bush violated one of the oldest and most taboo tropes of professional journalism: Don’t make yourself part of the news.”

Bush issued a statement saying: “Obviously I’m embarrassed and ashamed. It’s no excuse, but this happened 11 years ago—I was younger, less mature and acted foolishly in playing along. I’m very sorry.” Bush is 44.

“The leak leads to larger questions about journalism ethics,” insists the Law Street blog. Bush, writes Bryan White, “withheld knowledge of a presidential nominee admitting to sexual assault.”

Andrew Seaman, Society of Professional Journalists ethics chair, says NBC News should be independent from other divisions of the parent organization. “Also, does NBC News know of any similar conversations caught on tape for other NBC programs, such as ‘The Apprentice?'” he writes on the SPJ ethics blog Code Words.

The fallout and the questions mount as Trump explains his crude remarks by saying they were merely “locker room talk.”

First Lady Michelle Obama said Trump’s remarks cannot be ignored, to “dismiss this as everyday locker room talk is an insult to decent men everywhere.”

Trump denies charges of sexual harassment. His lawyers sent a letter to the New York Times, demanding a retraction of a story about two women who accuse Trump of sexual misconduct. The letter signed by Marc E. Kasowitz said the story was “reckless, defamatory and constitutes libel.”

One of the ironies of the “locker room talk” argument is that only two months ago Roger Ailes resigned as CEO of Fox News amid charges of sexual harassment and promoting a news organization with a locker room mentality.

A Washington Post report on Ailes bore the headline, “He made Fox News his ‘locker room’ — and now women are telling their stories.”

Odd that Trump defended himself by using a term associated with Ailes’ terminable offense as Fox News boss. Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes for sexual harassment and got a $20 million settlement, with apologies from the company.

Video: Trump tape starts national conversation about sexual assault | PBS NewsHour

If there is an upside to Trump’s locker room talk statement, it is that it triggered a national discussion about misogyny and sexual assault. The PBS News Hour broadcast such a discussion, featuring Anita Hill, a law professor at Brandeis University who once accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.

Author Kelly Oxford told of her own sexual assault experience on social media and encouraged others to do the same. She got 30 million responses.

“A lot of women have sexual assault and rape in their families, their grandmothers, their mothers, their aunts, their sisters. And the internet is a place where everybody has a voice and everybody can contribute. And it’s happening.”

The huge response, she said, “says that women are being abused. It’s such an overwhelmingly huge problem that we ignore it, as we often do when things are this large.”

Hill’s charges against Judge Thomas came 25 years ago, before social media. It sparked an early discussion of sexual harassment. Hill said she got many letters, and still gets them, describing harassment in the workplace, on the streets or in schools.

“So this is really a social problem,” she said. It requires policies and procedures that lead to a trusted process, including women, where “there are fair investigations that get to the truth, and then there is appropriate punishment when abuse occurs.”

ESPN sportswriter Mike Wise admits he has heard locker room jokes “that went beyond dirty.” Resistance too easily is dismissed.

“In some ways,” said Wise, “I’m really more worried about the enabling culture we have that it’s so permissive to say these things and to say, oh, we’re too politically correct today. And until we get into a mind-set of, no, that’s wrong and the friends around you that are supposed to tell you what you need to hear, other than what you want to hear, tell you it’s wrong, we’re going to still have this kind of culture.”

Both the Trump and the Ailes controversies suggested that a permissive culture fosters predatory behavior. In their cases, the culture grew in the familiar old boys’ club of the corporate boardroom. Not many women in those clubs. Maybe it’s to spare them locker room talk.

Edited by Stephen Rynkiewicz. Comment below in the “Leave a Reply” box. For advice from our ethics advisers, submit a question.

Do Short Attention Spans Lead the News?

By Casey Bukro

The public’s shifting attention has implications across the media landscape, from CBS’ plans to sell its historic radio division to the expanding influence of topical comedy on TV and the internet.

CBS Radio News.
CBS organized its radio network in 1928.

Radio historian Frank Absher appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” to talk about the heyday of CBS radio. The broadcast described CBS as one of the first networks to truly realize the power of news and develop its uses. Established in 1928, the network owns 117 stations and has an illustrious news-breaking history.

Voices were key to that development—the calm, measured and authoritative voices of correspondents like Edward R. Murrow and Lowell Thomas.

What was the state of broadcast journalism when CBS started? “There wasn’t any,” said Absher, a member of the Radio Preservation Task Force and the St. Louis Media History Foundation. “Broadcast journalism did not exist, not even as a concept. In fact, the early, early radio stations would simply grab a newspaper because a lot of them were owned by newspapers. And they would read stories on the air out of today’s edition.”

Ironically, John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” argues that much of today’s TV news still depends on what journalists find in daily newspapers. But back to Asher’s perspective.

Continue reading Do Short Attention Spans Lead the News?

Times Public Editor Blasts Sneak Interview

Suki Kim
Author Suki Kim complains of unfair treatment by New York Times writer. photo.

By Casey Bukro

Ambush interviews usually are not the way journalists conduct business. Seasoned professionals identify themselves as journalists and tell sources they intend to quote them, or ask permission to quote them. They make clear that remarks are “on the record.”

That’s the way it’s usually done. Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists occasionally get calls or inquiries, usually from young reporters, who don’t know that.

In 2012, a reporter doing an article on a controversial homeless shelter in New York asked: “Would it be unethical to call and not disclose that I am press?”

The answer from Hugh Miller, an AdviceLine consultant, was short and sweet: “Don’t. It would be unethical.”

Implicit in this exchange are questions of candor, disclosure and transparency. They raise the question of getting information under false pretenses.

Continue reading Times Public Editor Blasts Sneak Interview

Journalists Helping Police: Is It Unethical?

News helicopter
Police hitched a ride on a news helicopter in pursuit of a shooting suspect. Wikimedia Commons photo.

By Casey Bukro

People sometimes think police and reporters are alike. Both chase criminals and other kinds of crooks to protect the public.

But they’re not the same, and a case involving a news helicopter in Boulder, Colorado, made that clear.

Boulder police were chasing a shooting suspect when they asked reporters aboard a helicopter shared by Denver TV stations for an airborne lift at the scene to search for the suspect.

A police officer boarded the copter. From his aerial vantage point, the officer was able to nab a suspect in cooperation with a SWAT team on the ground.

A police spokeswoman called the assist instrumental in the arrest, according to the Boulder Daily Camera, and noted that the news team got direct access to the police action.

Boulder police requested the ride from reporters after failing to get assistance from Denver Police or the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A win-win, or an ethics foul?
Continue reading Journalists Helping Police: Is It Unethical?

Bankruptcy Ends Gawker’s Stare
Gawker’s slogan: “Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news.” image.

By Casey Bukro

On the Chicago police beat, which I covered at the City News Bureau of Chicago, legend was that police sometimes arrested suspicious characters for mopery with intentions to gawk.

By definition, a gawker is a person who stares openly at someone or something. To gawk is to gape, stare or rubberneck without trying to hide that you’re doing it. A gawker also can be an awkward or clumsy person.

So when Financial Times reporter Nick Denton launched in 2003, I figured I knew what to expect. The website described itself as a media news and gossip blog, one of its goals being to “afflict the comfortable.” Gawker Media became a network of blogs, including Gizmodo, Deadpan, Jezebel and Lifehacker.

Farhad Manjoo, in the New York Times, called Gawker Media “the first publisher that understood the pace, culture and possibilities of online news. And it used that understanding to unleash a set of technical, business and journalistic innovations on the news industry that have altered how we produce, consume and react to media today.”

“Gawker altered how we produce, consume and react to media.”

That sounds pretty impressive. Manjoo ended his piece by pointing out that Gawker criticized people without giving them the benefit of the doubt and vented outrage against ordinary people who didn’t deserve it. “A lot of the internet is wonderful,” writes Manjoo. “A lot of the internet is terrible. For both, blame Gawker.”

But I could not help feeling I’ve seen it before, in college newspapers that trade in insults and poor taste in the name of satire.

The leading example in my memory was the Illini Tumor, calling itself “a growth on the student body.” Later, it become simply “The Tumor.”

It was printed as an annual fundraising gimmick around home-coming at the University of Illinois for the campus chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. And it did raise a lot of money, some of it used for good causes. But it could be outrageously crude and offensive, as was Gawker.

I was Midwestern regional director for SPJ in the 1970s and 1980s. The Tumor was my first direct confrontation with ethics in journalism, and a painful one.

The Tumor staff argued that with the funds it raised, it could send busloads of its journalists to the annual SPJ conventions. More straight-laced types asked how SPJ could condone such scandalous journalism? What could a regional director do?

University officials held their noses and let students be students, hoping they would learn something in the process. They were entitled to freedom of the press, even though the Tumor was obnoxious. That’s one of the benefits of freedom of expression, even for college students. To be fair, some of the rants were funny. You’d expect that from bright kids with snarky attitudes.

As often happens, the problem solved itself when the Tumor faded into history, as Gawker is now doing. Offensive journalism can be funny and entertaining, but eventually the enemies it makes catch up with it. Satire takes real skill, which over time often degenerates into slapstick fart jokes. Even “Saturday Night Live” has had trouble trying to keep its edge.

“Even the media must obey the law.”

Gawker was sued in 2012 by Hulk Hogan, the TV personality/wrestler born Terry Bollea. Gawker published excerpts of a video tape of Hogan having sex with the wife of a friend.

A jury agreed that was invasion of privacy, resulting in a $140 million judgment against Gawker, $10 million against CEO Denton and $100,000 against Gawker’s editor. Gawker Media was forced into bankruptcy, the New York Post declaring that “even the media must obey the law.”

Univision Communications bought Gawker Media for $135 million, announcing it would shut down but continue to operate its other sites.

The site really may have been brought down by PayPal co-founder and billionaire Peter Thiel, who admits secretly funding the wrestler’s lawsuit. Gawker claimed in 2007 that Thiel was gay.

In satire, it’s often a matter of who gets the last laugh. Defiant to the end, Gawker threw a party celebrating its demise and extolling its bravery and independence, Jacob Bernstein reported in the New York Times. Gawker had been a training ground for gifted writers, wrote Bernstein, “and a place where too many of the articles published were not only mean but inconsequential.”

Gawker clearly was unethical, posting not only sex videos but a steady diet of reports on trivial failings of the famous and not so famous. Invasion of privacy is not only illegal—punishable in court—it also robs the targets of their dignity.

“Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness,” the Society of Professional Journalists ethics code says. Gawker made little pretense of tying its targets’ private actions to any public impact. It afflicted its victims simply because they were comfortable.

Gawker’s folly is not identical to the Tumor’s. A generation or more separates them. But their methods were similar—cruelty, insults and humiliation that sometimes passed for humor.

What we called satire a generation or so ago has evolved into the kind of social media attacks we see today. Technology changed, the times changed, but the hurt inflicted is the same. The internet made that possible. Anonymity plays a role in the mean-spirited tone of social media. The world’s discourse is coarser, and its media reflect that.

Good satire and penetrating social commentary are worthy efforts in a world often soured by death, destruction and mind-numbing, petty political bickering. It helps to be funny, always with an eye for suspicious characters who can be arrested for mopery with intentions to gawk.

Edited by Stephen Rynkiewicz. Comment below in the “Leave a Reply” box. For advice from our ethics advisers, submit a question.

Reporter’s Dilemma: Naming Owners of Tainted Water Wells

Zenith City Weekly
Zenith, an alternative paper in Duluth, Minnesota, faced an ethical dilemma reporting on water quality.

By Casey Bukro

Ethics is not only a matter of what a journalist should do, but also what she should not.

That was the dilemma facing Jennifer Martin-Romme, co-owner with her husband Taylor of the Zenith News in Duluth, Minnesota.

Back in 2012, a trusted source leaked a report to Martin-Romme showing that the drinking water wells of eight families in northern St. Louis county were tainted with manganese, a chemical that in high concentrations potentially could cause nerve and brain damage, especially in children.

“It seems almost impossible to publicize this information without identifying the affected individuals,” Martin-Romme said when she called Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance. “Even if they weren’t named, this pollution is fairly contained geographically in a low-population rural area. It would be easy to identify them and such a story is essentially branding them as at-risk for mental deficiencies or retardation. The negative impact that could have on their lives is obvious and enormous. What do I do? Help!”

Today, lead in the Flint, Michigan water supply has made water safety a national concern. This follow-up story reports the outcome of her dilemma, and whether the call to AdviceLine was helpful. Since it started taking calls from journalists in 2001, AdviceLine has handled more than 900 inquiries. Periodically, we contact journalists who called us to learn the rest of the story.

Continue reading Reporter’s Dilemma: Naming Owners of Tainted Water Wells

Ailes’ Legacy Lingers: Truth and Reconciliation at Fox News

By Casey Bukro

Television bosses normally like stories involving powerful men, beautiful women, sex, intrigue and big money. But the Roger Ailes story hits too close to home.

Roger Ailes
Roger Ailes

The longtime chairman of Fox News resigned in a sex scandal while Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox investigated accusations of sexual harassment and intimidation.

Ailes was sued by former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson for sexual harassment. That triggered more allegations against him, from both named and anonymous sources.

Now add questions about Ailes’ use of company funds “to hire consultants, political operatives and private detectives who reported only to him,” according to a New York magazine report, as part of a campaign to discredit Ailes’ personal and political enemies.

“Highly placed sources” tell Gabriel Sherman that in 2011 Ailes established a “Black Room” to conduct public relations and surveillance campaigns against people he targeted, including journalists. The article asks how Ailes was able to spend millions of dollars quietly to settle sexual harassment claims.

In reporting on the magazine’s allegations, CNN Money suggests the operation could violate of rules against corporate executives using company funds for personal reasons. “If true,” reported Dylan Byers, “such actions could make 21st Century Fox liable to its shareholders.”

Shelley Ross
Shelley Ross

Powerful men leave big trails. Vanity Fair contends that unnamed staffers still fear reprisal if they discuss Ailes.

Ailes cut a wider swath than anyone realized and now could become a poster boy for fixing what has been described as deep-seated sexual harassment habits at Fox, and maybe the rest of the television industry.

Shelley Ross, described as once one of the most powerful women in TV news, offers her “big idea” for addressing sexual harassment in the workplace.

It’s patterned after the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. After the official end of apartheid in 1994, victims of brutality were invited to speak publicly about their experiences. Attackers were invited to testify and ask for amnesty from civil and criminal prosecution.

Ross wrote about her idea in The Daily Beast “after watching, dodging and experiencing sexual harassment for 30 years.”

Too bad she did not speak up while in power.

Continue reading Ailes’ Legacy Lingers: Truth and Reconciliation at Fox News

Roger Ailes’ Eye for News: Lawsuit Draws Look at Fox News Legacy

Roger Ailes
Fox News boss Roger Ailes resigns after he’s accused of sexual harassment. (Wesley Mann/Fox News photo)

By Casey Bukro

As chairman of Fox News, Roger Ailes peddled sex appeal.

News anchors often were chosen for their looks: young, pretty, blonde, leggy and shapely. That’s the way Ailes liked them. A lot. Maybe too much.

It’s a formula that led to his downfall, apparently because he could not resist temptation or the raptures of the casting couch. Ailes resigned amid sexual harassment allegations after a 20-year reign as head of Fox News, where he devised a highly successful broadcast formula of vitriolic partisan right-wing commentary.

Ailes’s own alleged comments are part of a lawsuit against him by former Fox News Anchor Gretchen Carlson.

“I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago,” Ailes supposedly “>told Carlson. Carlson charges that Ailes sabotaged her career in retaliation for rebuffing his sexual advances and complaining about a hostile work environment. In a statement, Ailes contended her contract was not renewed due to low ratings and her lawsuit was her retaliation for the dismissal. Her lawyer claims the suit was considered even before the firing.

Carlson’s lawsuit prompted 25 women to come forward with what they describe as similar harassment claims against Ailes over five decades.

The Washington Post reported that interviews with four of the women “portray the 76-year-old television powerhouse as a man who could be routinely crude and inappropriate, ogling young women, commenting about their breasts and legs, and fostering a macho, insensitive culture.” One women accused Ailes of groping her. Ailes’s lawyer said the accusations are false.

Continue reading Roger Ailes’ Eye for News: Lawsuit Draws Look at Fox News Legacy

Melania Trump ‘Plagiarism’: Cribbing From Michelle Obama

Melania Trump
Melania Trump, speaking at Republican National Convention, is accused of plagiarism. “CBS This Morning” image.

By Casey Bukro

Politicians are a notoriously slippery tribe. Almost by definition they are seen as shifty and two-faced. A 2013 poll found Congress less popular than cockroaches and traffic jams.

So what explains the umbrage over Melania Trump’s warmup speech at the Republican National Convention, extolling Trump family values and virtues of her husband, Donald, the Republican nominee for president?

“From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect,” said Trump to warm applause.

By the next day, political writers were pointing out that passage and others were almost exactly what First Lady Michelle Obama said at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

“Plagiarism,” declared David Brooks, New York Times political columnist, during PBS-National Public Radio convention coverage. Others called it a “ripoff” or more politely “borrowing” or “cribbing.”

From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect.

Trump told NPR that she wrote the speech herself “with as little help as possible.”

The world is awash with political writers and commentators and does not need another. My brief is journalism ethics, which considers plagiarism a firing offense. Words are sacred in journalism, and journalism ethics demands giving credit for the work of others.

But politics is not journalism.

Long ago while working for the Chicago Tribune, I noticed that a speech given by a Chicago city hall official was almost exactly the same given earlier by another official. I wrote a story about that word theft. The word thief called me and said he saw no problem with what he did.

Journalists and politicians view the use of words differently. One might be trying to explain, the other might be trying to exhort. In either case, there are hacks and there are maestros. The best can inform or change public opinion. The worst see words as harmless things that tumble from our lips or fingertips.

Trying to find a politician’s code of ethics, I found none. Wikipedia states that “so called political realists argue that ethics has no place in politics. If politicians are to be effective in the real world, hey cannot be bound by moral rules. They have to pursue the national interest.”

This is not generally the way journalists see it. Their reactions to the Trump speech ranged from stern to humorous.

The New York Times offered a side-by-side comparison of the speeches by Trump and Obama, saying questions over Trump’s speech “set off finger-pointing.”

Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them. reported “looks like Melania Trump really did rip off Michelle Obama’s speech,” then toned it down later to say Trump was accused of plagiarism.

Other publications pointed out that accusations of plagiarism are fairly common in political speeches.

Farida Fawzy in listed 10 political figures, foreign and domestic, who have been accused of plagiarism, beginning with Vice President Joe Biden, who was a 1988 presidential candidate. He was accused of mimicking a speech by a British Labor Party figure and copying  parts of speeches by Humbert Humphrey, Robert Kennedy and John F. Kennedy.

Even President Obama gets mentioned; he admits to trading ideas with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. ran its own list of political plagiarism offenders, while observing that “talent borrows, but genius steals.”

Taking a humorous slant, Mary Schmich in the Chicago Tribune filled her column with every memorable quote she could think of, including “I have a dream,” as examples of what Melania Trump really meant to say.

Schmich ended her column by writing: “And I’ll leave you with this completely unoriginal thought: When someone else finds better words than you can find to say what you mean, spare yourself some pain. Remember to attribute. Use quotation marks. Heed my advice, and you shall overcome.”

Their integrity, compassion and intelligence reflects to this day on me and for my love of family and America.

Also on the humorous side, the New York Daily News described Trump as hip by borrowing a lyric or two from Rick Astley’s 1987 song, “Never Gonna Give You Up.” She “rickrolled” the Cleveland convention audience, said reporter Jessica Schladebeck, referring to the 1987 pop hit. Unlabeled links to the song’s music video are a popular internet prank.

“He will never, ever give up,” said Trump, referring to her husband in the manner of the Astley song. “And, most importantly he will never, ever let you down.”

Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke said apparent plagiarism was one part of a truly bizarre and disturbing day at the convention. It was mean-spirited, occasionally unhinged and angry, he said.

“Trump’s fan won’t care,” Huppke wrote. “But the people he needs to win the presidency will, because they know that nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

David A. Graham, a staff writer at the Atlantic, saw it this way: “As the old political axion goes, it’s not the crime but the cover-up. The plagiarism is a strange unforced error, but how many voters really care about Melania Trump borrowing a few sentences? With a quick apology, the story might fade quickly. But the Trump campaign’s insistent denials are taking some of the wind out of an otherwise successful speech that was the high point of an otherwise inconsistent first night in Cleveland.”

After two days of refusing to admit fault, Donald Trump’s campaign released a letter from a speech writer who apologized for inadvertently lifting parts of Mrs. Obama’s speech while working with Melania on a draft of her remarks.

He will never, ever give up. And, most importantly he will never, ever let you down.

Scholars might tend to step back and look at the Melania Trump plagiarism ruckus in a more dispassionate way, as part of the national learning process. A scholar like Philip J. Auter, professor of communication at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Plagiarism happens, wrote Auter in an email.

“If they were in my class, they would have failed the paper (speech), and probably the class. However, society (and the internet) have generally made it easier and easier to borrow, appropriate, accidentally copy others’ work with little or no consequence – unless they are a famous person (usually a politician) whose views you happen to oppose.

“In my several decades in higher ed and observing teaching in K-12, I’ve noticed that many in teaching (and administration?) have erred on the side of giving the student a second and third and fourth and fifth chance — rather than hurting their self esteem. This does not help.”

Veterans of the political campaign trails point out that speeches typically are rigorously vetted these days to guard against errors or embarrassments. That appeared to be lacking in Melania Trump’s speech. Something bad can happen.

“But every time it’s done, it’s a rookie PR move that is almost always NOT the speaker’s fault” said Auter. “Rather the fault often lies in a junior staff of writers that are not used to vetting and offering attribution — but are more used to copying and pasting often un-referenced memes onto their Facebook page.

“Communication is important. PR, advertising, speech, organizational, group and mass comm at this level benefit from management by trained, experienced people. (So consider hiring a bachelor’s, master’s or Ph.D. graduate in communication.)”

Edited by Stephen Rynkiewicz. Comment below in the “Leave a Reply” box. For advice from our ethics advisers, submit a question.

Mother Jones Goes Undercover

My Four Months as a Prison Guard
Mother Jones senior reporter Shane Bauer took a job at a state prison run by Corrections Corporation of America. His account is in the July-August 2016 issue.

By Casey Bukro

Just when you think an ethics issue has been put to rest, a Mother Jones magazine reporter spends four months working undercover as a guard at a corporate-run prison in Louisiana.

“I took a $9 an hour job as a private prison guard in Louisiana,” reporter Shane Bauer wrote in a 35,000 word, six-part report accompanied by two sidebar reports and an editor’s note, plus video.

“I saw stabbings, an escape and prisoners and guards struggling to survive,” Bauer wrote.

The publication’s editor-in-chief, Clara Jeffery, wrote that legal intimidation makes investigations of prisons rare, but “it’s time for journalists to reclaim our roots.” She pointed to an 1887 undercover investigation of a women’s mental asylum by New York World reporter Nellie Bly as an early example of the kind of work journalists should be doing. It triggered reforms.

It’s fair to say undercover reporting has fallen into disfavor these days because it often depends on deception, for which a publication can be sued. And it can make journalists look like liars.

“Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public,” says the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics.

Continue reading Mother Jones Goes Undercover