By Casey Bukro
Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists
Ethics case study: A pedophile pastor and a publisher.
In his first interview with the owner of a small Midwestern newspaper, a local church pastor threatened to vilify the newspaper owner from the pulpit if she printed anything derogatory about him.
The publisher thought that strange until she learned the priest had been accused of raping a 14-year-old boy in New York. She wrote about that, and lost readers and advertisers who complained the publisher was trying to destroy the popular priest.
Then the publisher learned that the priest had been involved in another incident of sexual misconduct in Florida and was reassigned twice before landing in the publisher’s parish.
The publisher called the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists, asking if she should reveal the priest’s history of continuing sexual misconduct. But doing so could cause another community backlash, with further loss in circulation and advertising which could force the publisher out of business.
Put yourself in AdviceLine’s place. What advise would you give to the worried publisher? Report the facts, or withhold them in an attempt to protect her newspaper and staff?
This is an actual case handled by AdviceLine.
The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.
Professional journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.