All posts by cbukro

About cbukro

Casey Bukro was inducted into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame in 2008 for outstanding contributions to Chicago journalism, after a 45 year career with the Chicago Tribune. Bukro retired from the Tribune in 2007 as overnight editor. He had pioneered in environmental reporting and in 1970 became the first full-time environment specialist at a major metropolitan newspaper in the United States and covered major developments on that beat for 30 years. He won the newspaper’s highest editorial award in 1967 for a series on Great Lakes pollution. The Society of Professional Journalists awarded Bukro its highest honor, the Wells Key, in 1983 for writing that organization’s first code of ethics. He is a past president of SPJ’s national ethics committee and a past president of the Chicago Headline Club. Bukro graduated with bachelor and master degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In 1998, he received the Northwestern University Alumni Association’s alumni service award for 17 years of volunteer service to the university. He has lectured in environmental journalism and journalism ethics at Northwestern, the University of Chicago, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, Columbia College, Columbia University and others. Before joining the Tribune staff, Bukro worked at the former City News Bureau of Chicago and the Janesville Gazette, Janesville, Wis.

NYT Editors’ Regrets image

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

Regrets, they’ve had a few.

They occupy the highest rungs of journalism leadership, the executive editors of the New York Times. The newspaper’s footprint on American journalism is so big, changes in its leadership is news.

As when the Times announced recently that, after an eight-year stint, Dean Baquet will step down as executive editor, succeeded by Managing Editor Joseph F. Kahn. Photos of the smiling men accompany such moments, along with assurances about the incoming editor’s leadership abilities.

Under Baquet’s leadership, the Times took 18 Pulitzer Prizes, one of journalism’s highest accolades. Not mentioned, though, is the Pulitzer Prize entry that the Times submitted, but withdrew upon discovering it was seriously flawed even though it already was named a finalist in the international reporting category for 2019. The Pulitzer Prize Board stripped the Times of its finalist status four days later.

Learning from failure

Failure often is cited as an opportunity to learn, and the failed Pulitzer entry is one of those occasions.

The discredited Times entry was called “Caliphate,” a 12-part audio documentary about the Islamic State, and included a related report, “The ISIS Files,” by the podcast’s co-host Rukmini Callimachi. The Times started examining the podcast after one of its main subjects, Shehroze Chaudhry, a Canadian who said he took part in atrocities, including two killings in Syria, was arrested by Canadian authorities who charged him with a terrorism hoax.

After a two-month review, the Times decided “Caliphate” did not meet the standards for Times journalism and accuracy. This is especially meaningful, coming from a newspaper that cannot claim a shortage of staff or resources, as do many newspapers across the country stricken by an economic tailspin. With more than 1,700 journalists, the New York Times is a media giant.

Leaders blamed

Baquet said the blame falls on newsroom leaders, including himself. These reportedly are some of the smartest people in the business.

“When The New York Times does deep, big, ambitious journalism in any format, we put it to a tremendous amount of scrutiny at the upper levels of the newsroom,” he said in a podcast interview posted by the Times. “We did not do that in this case. And I think that I or somebody else should have provided that same kind of scrutiny, because it was a big, ambitious piece of journalism. And I did not provide that kind of scrutiny, nor did my top deputies with deep experience in examining investigative reporting.”

A Times editor’s note on the “Caliphate” podcast cited two main problems: The Times’s failure to assign an editor well versed in terrorism to keep a close watch on the series, and the “Caliphate” team’s lack of skepticism and rigor in its reporting on Chaudhry.

One source

In effect, the Times podcast reporters placed too much trust in one man’s unverified account of events, a pitfall that snared even the Times, when they should have known better. Experienced journalists recognize the dangers of depending on one source for a big story, and they know the dangers of really, really wanting the story that source is telling them to be true. It is a siren song, deceptively alluring, that causes them to crash upon the rocks of credibility.

In a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation interview, Chaudhry was asked why he told the Times he had participated in atrocities. “I was being childish,” he replied. “I was describing what I saw and, basically, I was close enough to think it was me.”

Baquet believes no other executive editor has admitted to owning up to as many mistakes as he has. With 20/20 hindsight, he explains how rigorous examination of a complicated story should work.

Chewing, pro and con

“A really good piece of journalism not only chews on the stuff that supports the story — it chews on the stuff that refutes the story,” he said in a podcast. “And in the end, good journalism comes from some sort of internal debate over whether or not the stuff that supports the story is more powerful than the stuff that refutes the story. And to the signs that maybe our story wasn’t as strong as we thought it was.”

Signs, signals, hunches. They are part of news-making judgment. Sometimes a lot of time passes before the picture is clear, including worthiness of the 133 Pulitzer Prizes the Times has won, including the first awarded in 1918. In recent years, the Times has won one or more Pulitzers almost every year, a testament to its size and influence with the Pulitzer Prize Board. No other news organization has reaped so many Pulitzer Prizes.

The Times acted rather swiftly to decline a Pulitzer Prize for “Caliphate.” But it steadfastly refuses to return a highly controversial Pulitzer awarded 90 years ago that even Bill Keller, a Times executive editor from 2003 to 2011, considers without merit.

The 1932 Pulitzer

That is the 1932 Pulitzer awarded to New York Times reporter Walter Duranty for a glowing series of dispatches highly favorable to Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union’s communist dictator who ordered confiscation of food and grain from peasant families under a five-year “collectivization” plan. Duranty neglected to mention the plan led to the starvation deaths of millions of Ukranians and more than a million Russians in 1932-33, according to estimates. Stalin used collectivization to crush nationalist sentiments in Ukraine and pay for his efforts to industrialize the Soviet Union, while arresting, exiling or killing dissidents.

Getting rare interviews with Stalin, Duranty was unwavering in his defense of the Russian leader and his policies, even as the famine unfolded. A front-page Times story said: “The excellent harvest about to be gathered shows that any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.” Privately, Duranty reportedly told a British diplomat that as many as 10 million people might have died from lack of food in a single year. Duranty died in 1957.

Pulitzer board declines

The New York Times began to assess Duranty’s work in 1986 and 1990. In 2003, public pressure led the Times and the Pulitzer Board to review his work and the prize. The board found no “clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception” and decided against withdrawing the award. Then-Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said stripping Duranty’s award would be like airbrushing history. The Pulitzer Board again in 2021 declined to withdraw the award.

In a 2022 interview on National Public Radio with David Folkenflik, former executive editor Keller added his voice to the cause. Keller is a 1989 Pulitzer Prize winner for reporting on the Soviet Union.

Keller looks back with some regret that he did not push harder for the award to be returned, he told NPR. He says the Pulitzer board should rescind it.

“I mean, I can articulate a case for not revoking the prize and saying this is a teachable moment,” Keller said. “Hold the prize out there, but surround it with the shame it deserves. But I thought the Pulitzer board’s reasoning in not doing away with the prize was pretty lame. A Pulitzer Prize is not just an accolade for an isolated piece of work. It at least implies an accolade for the reporter’s performance, and Duranty’s performance was shameful.”

Regrets? They had a few. But not too few to mention.


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

Troubling News Source image

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

The Minnesota reporter said she had a “strange and not-disclosable” relationship with a news source, but it was not sexual, not even a friendship.

The source, an elected official, gives the reporter insights into stories on the county beat, but the reporter is conflicted over where to ethically “draw the line” when using the source. She is becoming uncomfortable with the nature of the relationship and is not certain she can remain objective if the source is part of the story.

Told of this conflict, the reporter’s editor suggests taking the reporter off the county beat, or having someone else cover a story that involves the problematic source.

The reporter called the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists, asking what she should do.

Take a moment and reflect on what you might suggest to the troubled reporter. She wants to be objective, but feels she is being drawn into a relationship she has trouble defining, and one that could lead to a more serious ethical dilemma in the future.

The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists advisor recognized that the reporter wants to do the right thing, but is reluctant to give up the source or the county beat, where she has deep experience. She values the “inside” information but has used the source so often, the relationship has become ethically uncomfortable. She fears a time might come when she might be required to report unfavorably on the source.

The safer course, reasoned the advisor, would be for someone else to interview the source when necessary, with the reporter’s coaching, rather than abandoning the county beat. The advisor complimented the reporter for her self-examination in trying to reach an ethical solution to a matter that was bothering her.


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

Roe vs. Wade Leak image

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists.

A soothsayer warned Julius Caesar to beware the ides of March, sometime around 44 BC.

Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to newspapers in 1971, revealing that the Johnson administration had systematically lied about the United States’ political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.

WikiLeaks, launched in 2006, publishes news leaks and classified media provided by anonymous sources. The international non-profit organization said it released online 10 million documents in its first 10 years.

Leaks of sensitive, sometimes shocking, information are a time-honored tradition in history and the United States. It’s done, often by whistle-blowers, who believe the public is entitled to know something that is being kept secret.

The latest example is the explosive report by Politico that a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion proposes to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that made abortion legal in every state. Politico reported: “No draft decision in the modern history of the court has been disclosed publicly while a case was still pending.”

The 98-page draft was written by Justice Samuel Alito, who says abortion is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. This argument might appeal to constitution originalists, although the high court rules on cases involving jet planes, which also are not mentioned in the constitution.

That might be among the many issues the revelation unleashed, including highly emotional protests that largely eclipsed news about the Russian invasion of Ukraine for a day or two. It opened layers of concerns about legal abortion availability, the honesty of justices who said they supported Roe vs. Wade as established law at their confirmation hearings and the authenticity of the draft opinion. A day after the disclosure, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed that the leaked draft ruling was authentic, but did not represent the court’s final decision in the case.edia ethics

Among the troubling concerns raised by the leak was how Politico obtained the draft ruling, and from whom. This is in the realm of journalism ethics. The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics cautions journalists against using undercover methods to obtain information, promising anonymity, favors to news sources or paying for information.

“The ethics behind Politico’s decision to publish the document will likely become a case study for future generations of journalists,” writes Kelly McBride, senior vice president of the Poynter Institute, a journalism school in St. Petersburg, Florida. “Politico offers very few details about how they got the copy…..(and) what the newsroom did to confirm that it’s real or even if it’s the most current draft.”

Politico reporters Josh Gerstein and Alexander Ward said in their 2,500-word story that Politico received a copy of the draft opinion from a person familiar with the case along with details supporting the authenticity of the document. They did not elaborate.

McBride wrote further: “Editors at Politico would help dubious readers if they explained why they are so confident the document is real and how they made the decision to publish it. When confronted with an unprecedented leak like this, news consumers are understandably skeptical in this era of mis-and disinformation. When journalists behind the work don’t signal that they have gone through an ethical process, consumers may conclude that ethics don’t matter to journalists.”

But McBride had no doubts that it was newsworthy. “Clearly, “ she wrote, “an unprecedented leak that could overturn a five-decade-old divisive national issue is news.”


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

Facebook Social Issues

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

They’re at it again, those Facebook algorithms that act more like mischievous gremlins.

I wrote a post about the first Earth Day 52 years ago, and attempted to boost it with advertising. Meta for Business, the corporate parent of Facebook, rejected the boost, saying the Earth Day post doesn’t comply with advertising policies against “social issues, elections or politics.”

Imagine that. Facebook, an online social media and social networking service owned by Meta Platform,  doesn’t want posts about social issues.

Earth Day

True, Earth Day was a huge social issue. On April 22, 1970, an estimated 20 million Americans conducted a day-long environmental awareness campaign, including students from thousands of colleges and universities. Americans of all ages joined in rallies, marches and “teach-in” education programs identifying the kinds of pollution tainting the air, land, water and food across the nation. It was the biggest demonstration in the nation’s history.

That event made a huge impact on the United States, starting a revolution that snowballed and produced new environmental laws and regulations intended to protect all Americans. But it’s not the sort of thing Meta wants discussed on its platform. It’s too relevant.

Ethics is cheating

That’s annoying, since it’s the second time in recent weeks that Meta blocked an ad for an AdviceLine post. An April 15 post explained how an ethicist tells the difference between a genuine ethical dilemma and a difficult ethical choice. It’s about journalism ethics. Meta rejected the boost saying it did not comply with Meta’s cheating and deceitful practices policy. It considered a report on ethics to be cheating and deceitful conduct.

This either is hilarious, or proof that Facebook is descending into algorithm madness.

That social media are swamps of misinformation and bias is fairly well established. Calls for regulation usually focus on social media content, including unproven conservative complaints that Silicon Valley is anti-conservative. Let them take their lumps like everyone else.

Man-machine interface

My gripe is with what could be described as the man-machine interface. How the algorithmic machines treat people, like me. My recent encounters with Facebook demonstrate a lack of commonsense. Maybe that is too much to expect from machines.

A mass media critic, or readers’ representatives, might help. This is an idea from the past, when newspapers and television stations employed staff members to be sure media served the public interest and were open to complaints or suggestions. They were a check on old-fashioned customer satisfaction.

As deeply invasive social media are in modern society, their operators seem distant and unreachable.

Silicon Valley behemoths

A Tech Policy Greenhouse report by Matthew Feeney put it this way: “Centralized content moderation also suffers from a perceived lack of transparency and process, with Silicon Valley behemoths considered by many to be secretive, distant institutions with few incentives to care about an individual case when their empires include millions or billions.”

In such a communications landscape, individuals don’t matter. And nonsensical algorithms seem to make that apparent.

Feeney ends the report by pointing out that “we are still in the early years of online speech,” and activists and lawmakers seem to have forgotten that firms once dominant in online speech, search or entertainment — like MySpace and AOL instant messenger — fell into obscurity or are gone.

Facebook, Twitter and Google are dominant today, writes Feeney, “but their continued success is not an axiom of history.” That could be especially true if users contending with algorithm nonsense appear to be an afterthought.


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

Ethics Quiz Answers image

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists.

No doubt you’ve been waiting for the answers to that journalism ethics quiz posted earlier featuring samples of questions answered in the past by the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists.

Some people just can’t resist matching their wits with AdviceLine ethics gurus who answer queries from professional journalists, some of them on deadline. That’s what AdviceLine, a free service, does.

In many cases, answering ethics questions is like walking a tight-rope. AdviceLine advisors don’t tell callers what to do. Instead, the advisors engage callers in a discussion of benefits and harms involved in each case, leading journalists to make their own decisions.

For those just tuning in, let me explain. AdviceLine is staffed by four university professors trained in ethics. AdviceLine is partnered with the Chicago Headline Club, a professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

Our goal is to assist each caller make ethical decisions that are well informed by standards of professional journalistic practice. So let’s get started.

Case One

Case one involved a woman who got into a conflict with security guards for riding topless on public transit. She asked the news editor of a major metropolitan daily to remove her name from a high-interest story about the conflict. In a similar case, a California editor says he is getting requests to remove old stories from the paper’s electronic archives. They include a person who became divorced, a person convicted of a felony five years ago and a beauty shop that wants the name of a former beautician removed from an old story about the shop. Is there anything unethical about news organizations keeping electronic archives, or is there an ethical requirement to honor such requests?

AdviceLine advisors write a detailed report on each query. David Ozar, emeritus professor of philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, was the advisor in this case. The call came from the executive editor of a California community newspaper.

“We discussed the reason for archives as the starting point for sorting out the ethics here,” Ozar wrote, “since this is an issue of benefit/harm and the first issue is what benefit the archives offer the community. The answer is the benefit of an historical record, which of its very nature is therefore historical (and) has information in it which is now outdated.”

Ethics of Archives

Ozar discussed with the editor whether there is a significant ethical difference between a paper archive and an electronic archive? The answer is two-fold: The electronic archive is much more useful to the community because it is so much more easily accessed and searched. It is of greater benefit to the community than a paper archive would be. But by the same token, searching each of them means that old information that some individuals might prefer to not have so accessible is readily accessible.

But now we can ask if there is an ethical difference between paper and electronic archives that leads to an obligation to block access when requested in the electronic one and not so in the paper one? “The answer seems to be no,” writes Ozar. If newspapers want to assist concerned individuals,  they “should not do so by removing information from the historical record.”

A newspaper may choose to see if Google will assist these people, or may choose to cooperate with Google if Google decides to help these people. But, the paper has no obligation to bear great expense to help these people block access, and in fact should view it as being, at most, an act of kindness (that is not unethical) rather than something they are ethically bound to do.

“All of this assumes, of course,” writes Ozar. “that the paper has taken the usual care in publishing only news that is supported by the evidence and has taken care also to correct any errors in its publishing.” Corrections should be electronically linked to the original stories so searchers see the corrections.

Case Two

Case two: The publisher of a Tennessee newspaper called AdviceLine, saying “I have a difficult confidentiality problem.” He is a member of the board of directors of the local United Way, a national coalition of charitable organizations. The publisher learned at an emergency board meeting called by the organization’s new executive director that the previous executive director failed to file federal IRS forms for not-for-profits and the local owes the federal government more than $20,000. The local would be fined $90 a day and risks losing its not-for-profit status if it fails to act within six weeks.

The publisher wants to know if it would be unethical to refrain from reporting the United Way problems until the situation is fixed? A United Way fund-raising campaign was under way at this time.

This case proved to be vexing to the AdviceLine volunteer staff, which includes both the university ethics experts who answer queries and professional journalists who understand newsroom practices. This case showed how ethicists themselves can disagree on what is ethical. The university ethicists and the professional journalists periodically met to review the cases to discuss how well the university ethicists responded to queries. In this case, they clashed.

In his report on the case, Ozar said, “we talked at length about benefit and harm.” They agreed that the public will likely be upset at this situation, but “there is no great loss to the public in not knowing this right at this time, whereas there is good reason to believe that, even with the corrective action already taken…, many people might reduce their contributions and many potential beneficiaries of United Way might suffer accordingly. That is, reporting this matter right now seems to produce more harm than benefit to the public.”


Ozar reported that the publisher wondered if preserving the board’s confidentiality might appear to them and later to the public that he was involved in covering up something that, as a journalist, he should have reported. But Ozar talked him out of it, saying withholding the information for a time could be justified “from a professional ethics point of view” and even by the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics.

Ozar and I exchanged emails on this report, and I told him that his advice was “flat-out wrong.” The publisher’s responsibilities, I argued, were to his newspaper and to the community, not to United Way. Malfeasance at the United Way is a story the community deserves to know immediately. And, I added, Ozar was wrong about his interpretation of the SPJ code of ethics. It says: “Seek Truth and Report It.”

This case was a clear example whereby publishers who join civic groups open themselves to conflicts of interest. The credibility of the paper and the publisher could be seriously damaged once the public learns the paper delayed reporting the story.

Even one of the AdviceLine advisors who takes calls disagreed with Ozar’s advice, saying, “I am afraid I would not have given the same advice. The journalist’s job is to seek the truth and report it. Sitting on this kind of information can only deepen the public’s suspicion of cover-up and now by the new administration” at the local United Way. “I feel strongly the best approach for United Way is to be completely honest and forthcoming, so it follows I would believe the journalist should not sit on the story. When it finally comes out and it surely will, the speed with which the United Way acted will be a question and the journalist who knew will be subject to the same inquiry.”

At an AdviceLine team discussion later, Ozar defended his position. “I work very hard not to give advice, but facilitate thought,” he said. “Right now, I agree with his reasoning. This man (the publisher) was a thoughtful, careful person who was aware of all of the issues being raised. He believed he had serious obligations to the United Way as a member of the board. The only way out was to not be on the board.”

Ozar added that he called the publisher to tell him that other members of the AdviceLine team disagreed with his advice “and presented the concern that he was neglecting certain duties that he has as a journalist. And we hashed through the case again and couldn’t come up with a better decision.”

Case Three

Case three: Journalism sometimes is described as a sexy job, but there are limits. AdviceLine gets many calls about romantic entanglements. Here’s one that was especially interesting, with more details than most.

The managing editor of a California newspaper said one of his reporters was having an affair with the mayor of one of the towns the reporter covers. The editor also learned that she sent the mayor at least two stories about his town prior to publication.

A further complication was the discovery that a competing newspaper learned of the affair between the reporter and the mayor and might run a story about it. The managing editor called AdviceLine for guidance.

The AdviceLine advisor, Hugh Edmund Miller, until recently assistant professor of philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, pointed out that the rerporter violated two standards in the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics: To act independently and to avoid conflicts of interest. She tried to hide her relationship with the mayor and was leaking information to him.

And if the competing newspaper reported the affair, that could seriously damage the paper’s credibility and reputation.

Miller told the managing editor: “I think you should do something decisive and promptly. Either reassign her to an utterly different beat or function, at the minimum, or fire her.”

Either say, said Miller, consider disclosing the matter to the public before the competition does. The editor said that confirmed his instincts.

Calling a Caller

Usually, we at AdviceLine don’t know the outcome of our cases, or if callers take our advice. But occasionally I track down the callers to ask them how the case turned out. I found the former managing editor. He left the newspaper after 22 years and was working for state government.

“I wanted to fire her outright,” said the former managing editor. He took the case to the company’s human resources department, recommending that the reporter be fired. The HR department was not interested in that. It ruled that the reporter was entitled to have sex with whomever she chose. It was a personal matter.

But she was terminated for sending stories to the mayor before she showed them to her editor. Those stories were considered company property.

This case reminds us that the world is a crazy and unpredictable place. Journalists have codes of ethics and it’s usually a good idea to abide by them. Journalists should protect their integrity and the integrity of the media companies they work for.

Corporate HR departments are guided by different standards.

Case Four

Case four: A group of environmental activists in the Phoenix area was setting fire to unoccupied houses under construction in a development near or on a nature preserve. Nobody had been injured by the fires.

The activists called a small newspaper offering to meet a reporter for an interview to explain their reasons for burning the houses. Other media contacted by the activists told police, who were unable to identify the activists or prevent them from burning more houses.

The newspaper published a headline containing a coded message agreeing to meet with the activists. A reporter interviewed the activists in a city park and the newspaper published a story about the arsonists and their motives.

Only later were ethics questions raised about the way the newspaper handled the story. A Phoenix reporter called AdviceLine, asking how his own newspaper should cover the issue.

Should the newspaper have simply told police about the activists’ invitation, as other media groups did? Should it have informed police of an interview meeting where they could arrest the activists? Should the newspaper publish the story so the activists could make their case to the public, giving the public a much clearer and less frightening picture of the group’s aims and intentions? Should the newspaper have published personal information about the activists that might have helped police, putting the activists at greater risk of arrest?

Processing the Issues

“During a lengthy and thoughtful conversation, the caller and I processed the issues,” Ozar writes in his report on this case. “He had already thought through them very carefully, so my role, at his request, was chiefly to play ‘devil’s advocate’ to make sure every side of the issues involved had been explored. In fact, he had already examined the issues quite carefully. I agreed with him that, if the police were not being effective (the newspaper) might well have judged reasonably at the time that interviewing the contact would do the public more good than harm. And it also turned out that way, making the judgment of their actions after the fact even clearer. The caller’s view was that such promises of confidentiality are sometimes essential to news gathering and that this was properly judged to be one of those times. I raised questions about it, but nothing that weakened the caller’s judgment on the matter.”

Those are just four of the more than 1,000 ethics queries handled by AdviceLine since its inception in 2001. Nearly half of the cases involve conflict of interest.


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

An Ethics Quiz photo


By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

A pandemic makes journalism ethics more important.

The truth is more important than ever as rumors and false information swirl.

That’s where making ethical decisions comes into play. It’s hard to do it alone. That’s why the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists exists. Call 866-DILEMMA or go to It’s a free service, staffed by four university professors who teach ethics.

AdviceLine advisors do not tell professional journalists what they should do. Instead, these trained advisors engage them in a discussion of benefits and harms involved in the case, leading journalists to reach decisions based on best journalism ethics practices. AdviceLine is partnered with the Chicago Headline Club, a professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

Our aim is to assist each caller make ethical decisions that:

*Are well informed by available standards of professional journalistic practice, especially the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics.

*Take account of the perspectives of all the parties involved in the situation.

*Employ clear and careful ethical thinking in reaching a decision.

What sorts of issues come to AdviceLine? Nearly half of the ethical questions presented to AdviceLine concern conflicts of interest. The SPJ code of ethics tells journalists to “act independently,” but it is often difficult to know, when you are in the middle of a complicated situation, what is more compromising of journalistic independence and what is not.

So here’s a test, an ethics quiz, based on cases that came to AdviceLine. Journalists sheltering in place during the pandemic might welcome a chance to take an ethics break. You be the judge. What advice would you have given in these cases? On what would your advice be based? Put yourself in our shoes.

Case one: The news editor of a major metropolitan daily says the newspaper published a story about a woman who got into a conflict with security guards for riding topless on public transit. Her name ranks at the top of a Google hit list, and she wants her name removed from the story because it’s difficult to find a job.

Meanwhile, a California editor is getting requests to remove old stories from the paper’s website archives, or block them from Google’s search engine. The requests include a person who became divorced, a person convicted of a felony five years ago and a beauty shop that wants the name of a former beautician removed from an old story about the shop. Is there anything unethical about papers keeping electronic archives, or is there an ethical requirement to honor these requests?

Case two: The publisher of a countywide newspaper is a member of a local United Way board of directors. In an emergency meeting, the new United Way executive director revealed that the previous executive director failed to file the federal IRS forms for not-for-profits, resulting in a $20,000 fine, which could climb higher if the organization’s new executive director fails to file the forms within six weeks.

The publisher wanted to know if it would be unethical to refrain from reporting the United Way problems until the situation was fixed. The national United Way fund drive was under way at the time, and the local group feared donors would be less generous if they learned of the tax problems before it was fixed.

AdviceLine regularly gets calls asking if it is a conflict of interest for editors or publishers to join local civic groups or chambers of commerce.

Case three: Journalism sometimes is described as a sexy job, but there are limits. AdviceLine got a call from a California editor who said one of his reporters was having an affair with the mayor.

A Massachusetts reporter asked how soon she should tell her editor about a growing relationship with an attorney she met while covering court cases. And a Washington, D.C. editor proposed a rule forbidding his staff from dating any person who is a news source, or might become a news source. A reporter complained that would mean reporters could not date anyone, since anyone might become news. Is a rule against dating news sources going too far in the cause of ethics, or is it simply recognition that journalism requires higher standards? Or should journalists have a chance at romance like everyone else?

AdviceLine has gotten a number of calls on romance issues. It’s a hot topic. So in the interest of professional ethics, I’ll let the cat out of the bag on this one. AdviceLine advisors have answered this problem by saying journalists who are romantically involved with news sources could not be trusted to be impartial and neutral toward those news sources. Their partiality might harm the credibility of the newspaper or broadcasting company they work for. In one of the cases, an AdviceLine advisor said journalists should be forbidden to date sources, or if that is not possible, they should be removed from covering that source.

Do you agree? What’s your take on this one?

Case four: A group of environmental activists in the Phoenix area was setting fire to unoccupied houses under construction in a development near or on a nature preserve.

The activists sent a letter to a small newspaper offering to meet a reporter for an interview to explain the reasons for burning the houses. The editors pondered whether to give the letter to police, inform the police of the interview so the activists could be arrested, go ahead with an interview as requested and publish the story that explains the activists’ motives or do the interviews and publish all personal information gained from the activists and let police take it from there?

That’s a sample of what AdviceLine handles. It’s interesting work. Never dull.

Our mission is not only to help individual journalists reach informed ethical decisions, but to contribute to the greater discussion, understanding and body of knowledge regarding ethics and journalism – and to be an influential force in that effort.


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





Lessons From Plagues



European plague. the photo.


By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists


The history of plagues and pandemics shows some similarities in the way they spread, and how people react.

Travelers, whether soldiers or traders, often were the super spreaders of their day.

Quarantine is a centuries-old strategy against pandemics. Wearing masks is an old defense too, including public resistance to wearing them.

Another similarity is that millions of people die. Survivors muddle through, sometimes with the help of modern medical treatment. But medicine often was useless against plagues. Blame it all on civilization.

“Plagues and epidemics have ravaged humanity throughout its existence, often changing the course of history,” writes Owen Jarus in, offering a list of 20 of the worst epidemics and pandemics in history. At times, they signaled the end of entire civilizations.

The list starts with an epidemic 5,000 years ago that wiped out a prehistoric village in China. Bodies of the dead were stuffed inside a house that was burned down at a site called Hamin Mangha in northeastern China. Prehistoric mass burial sites dating to roughly the same time suggest an epidemic swept the entire region.

Jarus’s list ends with the Zika Virus epidemic dating from 2015 to the present. The impact of the Zika epidemic in South America and Central America won’t be known for several years. It is spread by mosquitoes and can attack infants still in the womb, causing birth defects.

 Learning From the Past

Focusing on what we’ve learned from past pandemics, Tim McDonnell in starts with the Antonine plague beginning in 165 AD, one of the world’s first epidemics. A form of smallpox or measles, legionnaires returning from a siege in modern-day Iraq brought it to Rome. It devastated the Roman army, fueled the growing popularity of Christianity and was an early contributor to the empire’s eventual collapse. It also offered an early glimpse into a key tenet of virology: Disease outbreaks are deadliest when introduced to a population for the first time, when people lack immunity.

Genoese traders brought the plague known as the Black Death to Europe after escaping a siege in which a Mongol general used infected corpses as a weapon. Spread by fleas, the plague killed up to 23 million people, one-third of Europe’s population, from 1347 to 1351.

The first true flu pandemic appeared in the summer of 1580 in Asia, writes McDonnell, and quickly spread over trade routes into Europe and North America. Earlier cases might have occurred among Greek soldiers fighting the Peloponnesian War in 430 BC. The first reference to “influenza” in scientific literature dates to 1650 and comes from the Italian word “influence.”

Possibly the worst medical disaster in history, the 1918 Spanish Flu infected a third of the global population and killed up to 50 million people. It revealed how many lives can be saved by social distancing. Cities that cancelled public events had far fewer cases. The disease spread quickly in the United States and Europe through troop movements during World War I, infecting armies involved in the conflict.

A pandemic occurs when a disease turns into a global outbreak, writes M. David Scott in Covid-19 is now considered a pandemic. It is causing countries to close their borders, urge people to stay indoors and order businesses to cease operations. Scott lists the top 10 deadly pandemics of the past. This list includes leprosy of the Middle Ages, a bacterial disease that can lead to damaged nerves, skin, eyes and respiratory tracts. Called “the living dead,” lepers were considered “unclean” and had to wear bells to signal their presence. It is believed Europe had about 19,000 leper houses about this time because lepers were forbidden in many locations.

Plagues Spawned By Civilization

Though plagues often are described as threats to civilizations, Andrew Sullivan writes in New York Magazine that plagues are spawned by civilization.

“Plague is an effect of civilization,” writes Sullivan. “The waves of sickness through human history in the past 5,000 years (and not before) attest to this, and the outbreaks often became more devastating the bigger the settlements and the greater the agriculture and the more evolved the trade and travel.”

We live in a genocidal graveyard, he contends, and plagues remind humans of their mortality. The story is far from over.

“As the human population reaches an unprecedented peak, as cities grow, as climate change accelerates environmental disruption, and as globalization connects every human with every other one, we have, in fact, created a near-perfect environment for a novel pathogen-level breakout. Covid-19 is just a reminder of that ineluctable fact and that worse outbreaks are almost certain to come.” He calls Covid-19 “mercifully, relatively mild in its viral impact, even though its cultural and political effects may well be huge.” It could serve as a harbinger.

At times like this, humans scramble for cures and defenses. And those have histories of their own.

Centuries-old Strategy

“In the new millennium, the centuries-old strategy of quarantine is becoming a powerful component of the public health response to emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases,” writes Eugenia Tognotti of the University of Sassari in Italy.

“During the 2003 pandemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, the use of quarantine, border controls, contact tracing and surveillance proved effective in containing the global threat in just over three months. For centuries, these practices have been the cornerstone of organized responses to infectious disease outbreaks.”

But these methods are controversial and raise political, ethical and socioeconomic conflicts.

Even during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic more than a century ago, resistance to wearing face masks was as controversial as it is today, writes Christine Hauser in the New York Times. Those who objected to the practice were called “mask slackers” and fined or jailed.

“The masks were called muzzles, germ shields and dirt traps,” wrote Hauser. “They gave people a ‘piglike snout.’ Some people snipped holes in their masks to smoke cigars. Others fastened them to dogs in mockery. Bandits used them to rob banks.”

Masks Stoke Division

As the 1918 influenza pandemic raged in the United States, masks of gauze and cheesecloth became the facial front lines in the battle against the virus, she wrote. “But as they have now, the masks also stoked political division. Then, as now, medical authorities urged the wearing of the masks to help slow the spread of disease. And then, as now, some people resisted” while thousands of Americans were dying in a deadly pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic behaves in unexpected ways, writes Laura Helmuth in, making it difficult to keep up with current findings. People tend to remember the first things they learned of the disease, making it psychologically difficult to replace old information with new knowledge. Helmuth listed nine of the most important things we’ve learned in the past seven months. Among them:

*Covid-19 outbreaks can happen anywhere. Chinese people got it where they buy groceries. Italians got it through their habit of greeting each other with kisses on the cheeks. People on cruise ships got it because of the buffets. People in nursing homes got it because they are frail. People in New York got it because the city is crowded.

*Covid-19 can sicken and kill anyone, not just the elderly but teenagers and children too.

*Contaminated surfaces are not the main danger.

*It’s in the air. When people cough or sneeze, they expel droplets or particles of mucus and saliva that carry the virus.

*Many people are infectious without being sick.

*Warm weather will not stop the virus.

*Masks work.

*Racism, not race, is a risk factor.

*Misinformation kills.

  Infodemic of Misinformation

As governments fight the Covid-19 pandemic, is fighting an “infodemic” of rumors and misinformation about the pandemic.

A common phenomenon during crises, said the fact-checking organization, is attempts by people to find patterns in them as a way to control or understand events.

A common misperception, said Snopes, is that plagues happen every 100 years by citing those in 1720, 1820, 1920 and 2020.

“It’s an example of the common technique of creating the impression of a regular pattern by cherry-picking a small amount of (not necessarily relevant) data, while completely ignoring a much larger body of related data that doesn’t fit the desired pattern,” said Snopes. The misperception ignored pandemics in years that did not end in 20.

At this writing, the medical community is struggling to find a vaccine to cure or treat Covid-19. That is another history in the making, likely to be filled with misconceptions and misinformation before it all plays out.


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








Face Masks Gain Credibility


St. Joseph Medical Center photo


By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave…when first we practice to deceive.” – Walter Scott.

The debate or confusion over wearing a mask as a defense against coronavirus-19 is a tangle of mixed messages that began with deception.

It’s a good lesson in why honesty is the best policy, a concept government officials often don’t understand.

On March 2, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told people to stop buying face masks to prevent the novel coronavirus, warning that they actually might increase risk of infection if not worn properly, wrote Jacqueline Howard of CNN.

“You can increase your risk of getting it by wearing a mask if you are not a health care provider,” Adams said during an interview on Fox & Friends. “Folks who don’t know how to wear them properly tend to touch their faces a lot and actually can increase the spread of coronavirus.”

The virus was spreading in communities, he acknowledged, but “there are things they shouldn’t be doing and one of the things they shouldn’t be doing in the general public is going out and buying masks.”

To emphasize, Adams tweeted: “Seriously people – STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if health care providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”

                        A reason for deception

There was the reason for the deception, which became more evident as weeks passed. Public officials worried that health care providers would not be able to get them if the public rushed out to buy them. And, for sure, the United States proved to be ill-equipped and unprepared for the coronavirus onslaught. At first, health care workers did voice concerns about supplies of personal protective equipment.

Hundreds of health care in Michigan were working without such equipment as covid cases exploded across the state, the Detroit News reported.

Let’s pause here for a moment to ask: Rather than telling the public the use of face masks was ineffective or even dangerous, why not tell the truth and say health care workers should be the first to get this valuable equipment? Why not ask for public cooperation? Public officials also are prone to withhold the truth when they say the public might panic if they knew the truth. It would make a lot more sense to explain the dangers and give the public time to prepare for an emergency. Public officials too often treat the public as though they are ignorant, unable to make decisions about their own welfare. So they lie, as though that is in the public interest. Public officials like to think they are smarter than everyone else, contrary to plenty of evidence.

But back to the coronavirus.

On March 30, the World Health Organization held a media briefing. WHO officials did not recommend mask wearing by healthy members of the general population. Masks, they said, should be worn by those with the disease or those in contact with them. Still, months after the pandemic began to spread, people remained unsure about whether a mask was needed to keep them safe. Meanwhile, South Korea and Japan distributed them to the public while the Czech Republic and Slovakia made wearing them mandatory.

                                      Updated guidance

On April 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance about wearing face coverings during the pandemic. It advised Americans to wear non-medical cloth face coverings, including homemade coverings fashioned from household material. They should be worn in public settings, said CDC, like grocery stores and pharmacies, wrote Mandy Oaklander.

CDC recommended surgical quality masks only for people who already showed symptoms of coronavirus and must go outside, since wearing a mask can help prevent spreading the virus by protecting others nearby when you cough or sneeze. CDC did not recommend N95 face coverings, the tight-fitting masks designed to filter out 95% of particles from the air that you breathe – except for health care workers.

But people bought and used them, which says something about public wisdom.

Also on April 3, Donald Trump, president of the United States, said he would opt out of wearing a mask, calling public health recommendations voluntary.

“I don’t think I’m going to be doing it,” he said, suggesting that it would be awkward to do such a thing in the Oval Office. “Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens — I just don’t see it.”

After weeks of insisting Americans should not wear masks to prevent the disease, administration officials debated over reversing course. They were divided about the wisdom of advising Americans to cover their faces in public, fearing it would be a setback to the social distancing policy favored by officials. They recommended Americans wear non-medical cloth face coverings.

                                       Another turnabout

“At stake was another turnabout for a White House that has sown confusion with its response to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the nation,” writes Kevin Liptak of CNN. “The debate over masks has come to encapsulate a federal effort marked by repeated reversals, conflicting recommendations, low stockpiles and competing internal interests that often lead to muddled messaging.”

Speaking at a White House briefing, U.S. Surgeon General Adams admitted: “It has been confusing to the American people.” The change, he said, resulted from new information showing that people without covid symptoms  were spreading the infection.

New guidelines, said Adams, advised Americans to wear cloth face masks in public settings where social distancing guidelines are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores.

The argument that a public rush to buy face masks would jeopardize health care workers began crumbling, in the U.S. and in Great Britain.

The Guardian reported on April 23 that the claim by British ministers that public use of masks could jeopardize the National Health Service supplies “is disingenuous.”

“The face masks recommended for use in the community by various bodies are homemade cloth masks or reusable washable masks of the type used by cyclists,” reported The Guardian. “A recommendation for that type of mask is not likely to impact on the supply of the rather different single-use medical masks.”

                           Masks used in China

This should not have been too difficult to figure out in the United States or anywhere else, since masks were used widely in China against dense air pollution in metropolitan areas, like Shanghai and Beijing. Americans quickly resorted to tying bandanas across their faces, a tactic used by cowboys riding dusty trails. Odd something that simple did not occur to government officials struggling with who should wear face masks.

By June 25, the story shifted. “How Do You Deal With People Who Refuse to Wear a Mask?” wrote Barbara Krasnoff in “The Verge.”

“You’d think that months of reading about overflowing hospitals and mounting death statistics would scare almost anyone into following the current Centers for Disease Control recommendations: wear a mask in public spaces to protect others from possible infection, especially since there is no current way to be sure who may be an asymptomatic transmitter – particularly in relatively crowded urban areas,” Krasnoff wrote.

“However, these days, when I go out for a walk or to run errands, at least half the people I see are not wearing masks – or are wearing their masks around their necks, as though those pieces of cloth or paper are good-luck totems rather than items with a specific purpose.”

                               Only in America

By then, something strange had happened, something that might come under the heading of “only in America.” Refusing to wear a face mask became a political statement. People were following the example of President Trump. Eventually Trump did wear a mask, joking that it made him look like the Lone Ranger, a fictional character who fought outlaws in the Old West.

On June 30, Yahoo Life reported “a worrisome trend of public leaders speaking out against the use of protective face coverings, something that experts say is vital in slowing the spread of coronavirus.” Though Arizona broke a record with the highest single-day increase of covid cases only days earlier, a Scottsdale councilman removed his face mask, complaining “I can’t breathe,” during an anti-mask rally.

This clash between politics and medical science only deepened public confusion and anxiety over mixed messages from the Trump administration.

“What bothers the health care workers is mixed messaging from our leaders,” Dr. Luis Rosario, a critical care specialist, told Yahoo Life. “Why do you have to politicize a mask? I will never understand that.”

It is one of the oddities of the coronavirus assault. The refusal to wear masks is blamed for some pandemic deaths. Dr. Rosario said, “many of these people really didn’t need to die.”

By July 2, BBC News online reported that face coverings on public transport was mandatory in England and Scotland, and soon would be mandatory in shops in Scotland. This was in line with updated World Health Organization advice, which said non-medical face coverings should be worn in public where social distancing is not possible. In England, they should also be worn by hospital staff, outpatients and visitors.

                                Case counts climb again

By July 13, Bloomberg reported that many places that suffered most in the first wave of infections, including California, Louisiana, Michigan and Washington state, were seeing case counts climb again after months of declines.

Experts say the resurgence in the original covid battlegrounds had similar causes, according to Bloomberg. They include a population no longer willing to stay isolated indoors, Republicans who refuse face masks as a political statement, protests over police violence and young people convinced the virus won’t seriously hurt them.

This resistance to wearing masks is not new, wrote J. Alexander Navarro, assistant director of the Center for the History of Medicine, University of Michigan. It all happened before during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. Health authorities campaigned for ordinances mandating face masks. Some proposed sentencing scofflaws to short jail terms and fines ranging from $5 to $200. Those refusing to wear masks were called “slackers.”

Debates over such regulations were just as vociferous then as they are now. A draft resolution in Portland, Oregon, led to a heated city council exchange, with one official declaring the measure “autocratic and unconstitutional,” adding that “under no circumstances will I be muzzled like a hydrophobic dog.” It was voted down.

“Deeply entrenched ideals of individual freedom, the lack of cohesive messaging and leadership on mask wearing and pervasive misinformation have proven to be major hindrances thus far, precisely when the crisis demands consensus and widespread compliance,” writes Navarro. “This was certainly the case in many communities during the fall of 1918. That pandemic ultimately killed about 675,000 people in the U.S. Hopefully, history is not in the process of repeating itself today.”

It’s chilling, though, to see how much history is repeating itself.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Philosopher George Santayana.


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



Pandemic Spurs a Migration

Immigration. image


By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists


The covid-19 pandemic is spurring a migration, one of many in human history, from crowded big cities where death tolls are rising to smaller cities, suburbs and rural areas thought to be safer from the scourge.

Humans are a restless species even in the best of times, spreading across nations or the globe, sometimes prodded voluntarily or un-voluntarily by war, famine, disease, conquest, wanderlust, living conditions, religious freedom and prejudice.

Today the fear of a plague is the driving force.

“A record 27% of home searchers looked to move to another metro area in April and May 2020, a new high in the share of users searching for homes outside their area,” reported Redfin, a residential real estate company. It’s up from 25.2% in the second quarter of 2019 and 26.0% in the first quarter of this year.

The immigration analysis is based on a sample of more than one million users searching for homes across 87 metro areas in April and May. Overall, searches for homes in small towns surged. Pageviews of homes in towns with fewer than 50,000 residents were up 87% from a year ago, more than triple the 22% increase in pageviews of homes in cities with more than a million residents.

They want to leave the Bay Area, Washington, D.C. and Seattle for places like Sacramento, Las Vegas and Nashville.

“While there has been a huge increase in the number of people looking online at homes in small towns, the long-term impact of the pandemic on people actually moving from one part of the country to another remains to be seen,” said Redfin economist Taylor Marr. Most of them probably were already considering a lifestyle change. “The pandemic and the work-from-home opportunities that come with it is accelerating migration patterns that were already in place toward relatively affordable parts of the country. But for many people, the lure of large homes in wide open spaces will be a passing dream fueled by coronavirus-induced isolation.”

                                                      Past immigrations

Judging from past immigrations, isolation hardly seemed like a goal. And pandemics have a way of upending and diverting plans. Moving might not be that easy.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut enacted 14-day traveler quarantines, trying to check the spread of the coronavirus. Governors hope to preserve their hard-won recoveries by making travelers from more than half-dozen virus hot-spot states isolate themselves.

The United States leads the world in coronavirus cases and deaths. While the U.S. wrestles with easing restrictions safely, the European Union declared that Americans will not be allowed to travel to the block of 27 countries when it reopens to some foreign travel. Nearly 10.3 million coronavirus cases have been detected worldwide, with roughly 2.6 million infections reported in the United States. At least 124,000 people have died of the disease in the U.S., and the global death count is near 505,000.

It’s too early to tell how this plays out nationally and globally on immigration, a story of movement by people from one place to another, particularly different countries, with intentions of settling temporarily or permanently in a new location.

Early human migration includes people migrating to regions where there were no humans. Colonialism involves expansion of populations into sparsely settled territories or territories with no permanent settlements. In modern times, humans migrated within and between nations, legally or illegally. It can be voluntary or unvoluntary, such as deportation, slave trade, trafficking in human beings and flight from wars or ethnic cleansing.

The history of immigration to the United States starts with the first European settlements around 1600. In 1607, the first successful English colony settled in Jamestown, Virginia. In 1619, Africans were imported as slaves. So began the first and longest era of immigration, lasting until the American Revolution in 1775. It brought Northern European immigrants, mainly from Britain, Germany and the Netherlands. The British were the largest group of arrivals. Ninety percent of these early immigrants became farmers.

                                                    Later in history

Looking later in history, the University of Washington’s “America’s Great Migrations Project,” derived in large part from the work of James Gregory, professor of history. Recognizing that “Americans have always been a moving people, coming from other places, moving to new places,” the project focused on four historic migrations:

The Great Migration – Upwards of seven million African Americans left the  South between 1916 to 1970 to settle mostly in the big cities of the North, Midwest and the West. They transformed cities and set the foundations for reconstruction of race, politics and even regional balances of the U.S.

Driven from their homes by unsatisfactory economic opportunities, they took advantage of the need for industrial workers during the First World War. To the dismay of white Southerners, black newspapers, particularly the widely read Chicago Defender, published advertisements touting the opportunities available in Northern and Western cities, along with first-person accounts of success.

By the end of 1919, some one million blacks had left the South, traveling by train, boat or bus. Some had autos and even horse-drawn carts. In the decade between 1910 and 1920, the black population of major Northern cities grew fast, including 66% in New York, 148% in Chicago, 500% in Philadelphia and 611% in Detroit.

Many new arrivals found jobs in factories, slaughterhouses and foundries, where working conditions were hard and sometimes dangerous. Female migrants had a harder time finding work. Aside from competition for employment, there was competition for living space in the crowded cities. Though segregation was not legal in the North, as it was in the South, racism and prejudice were widespread.

During the Great Migration, African Americans began building a new place for themselves in public life. They confronted racial prejudice as well as economic, political and social challenges to create a black urban culture with enormous influence in decades to come.

                                             Latinx migration

Latinx American Great Migrations – Spanish-speaking people were living in what is now the United States decades before English-speaking people crossed the Atlantic seeking colonies. Centuries later, the United States annexed Florida, Louisiana and the northern half of Mexico. More than 100,000 Spanish-speaking residents became U.S. citizens.

Though the University of Washington project calls this a migration, it seems more like a population capture.

The 1850 U.S. census counted more than 80,000 former Mexicans, 2,000 Cuban and Puerto Ricans and 20,000 people from Central and South America. Today the descendants of those 1850 citizens are part of an Latinx American population that grew enormously. As of 2017, more than 58 million Americans claimed Latin American heritage.

Conventional wisdom says Latin American migrants continue coming to the U.S. seeking a better life and the “American Dream,” writes Roque Planas in That’s true, but there’s another part of the story, he writes. “People leave Latin America because life there can be very hard. Poverty, political instability and recurring financial crises often conspire to make Latin American life more challenging than in the U.S., a wealthy country with lots of job opportunities.”

Southern Diaspora – More than 20 million whites left the South during the 20th century, vastly outnumbering the 7-8 million African Americans who left, according to the University of Washington project. They were joined by nearly one million Latinx who moved west to California and into the Midwest.

                                                              Dust Bowl

Dust Bowl Migration – Close to 400,000 people fled Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Missouri  during a period of severe dust storms that struck during the Great Depression. Known as the Dust Bowl migration, it was the most publicized mass migration of that decade.

The drought came in three waves, 1934, 1936 and 1939-40. But some regions of the High Plains had draught conditions for up to eight years. Though early explorers called the region the Great American Desert, the federal government encouraged settlement and development of the plains for agriculture with the Homestead Act of 1862, offering settlers 160-acre plots. With the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the completion of the First  Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, waves of migrants and immigrants reached the Great Plains.

Without understanding the ecology of the plains, farmers deep-plowed the virgin topsoil, displacing the native, deep-rooted grasses that normally trapped soil and moisture even during droughts and high winds. During the droughts of the 1930s, soil deprived of the anchoring grass roots turned to choking clouds of dust that blackened the sky.

The Dust Bowl forced tends of thousands of poverty-stricken families to abandon their farms, unable to pay mortgages or grow crops. Losses reached $25 million a day by 1936.

                                                 Native Americans

Native American Forced Relocations – Although this migration does not appear in the University of Washington’s migration project, it deserves recognition as the kind where people are moved unwillingly.

At the beginning of the 1830s, nearly 125,000 Native Americans lived on millions of acres of land in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Florida — lands their ancestors occupied and cultivated for generations. By the end of the decade, few natives remained anywhere in the southeastern United States. Working on behalf of white settlers who wanted to grow cotton on Indian land, the federal government forced Native Americans to leave their homelands and walk hundreds of miles to designated “Indian Territory” across the Mississippi River.

Relocated people suffered from exposure, disease and starvation on their way to reservations, killing thousands. The term “Trail of Tears” springs from a description of the forced removal of Native American tribes, including the Cherokee Nation relocation in 1838. Cherokees were the last forced removal east of the Mississippi, resulting in an estimated 2,000 to 8,000 deaths among the 16,543 relocated. By some estimates, about 60,000 Native Americans were forced from their homelands.

The Indian Removal Act in 1830, forced all eastern tribes to move to southwestern reservations, to land considered useless. Twenty-six tribes were removed or assigned reservations in the new territory between 1830 and 1862. The end of the Civil War allowed another surge of Anglo-American settlement in the West, forcing 28 tribes to move to Indian Territory between 1867 and 1892.

Andrew Jackson long advocated what he called “Indian removal.” As an army general, he led brutal campaigns against the Creeks in Georgia and Alabama and the Seminoles in Florida. As president, he signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. Indian removal was Jackson’s top legislative priority upon taking office. The Choctaw became the first nation expelled from their land. The Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek and Cherokee were known as the “Five Civilized Tribes” for learning to speak and write English and following European-style customs such as land and property ownership.

                                               Lincoln no friend

Though Abraham Lincoln is known as “The Great Emancipator,” he was no friend to Native Americans. Beginning in 1863, the Lincoln administration oversaw the removal of 10,000 Navajos and Mescalero Apaches, forcing them to walk 450 miles to the Bosque Redondo reservation in New Mexico and held as military prisoners. More than 2,000 died.

Rampant corruption in the Indian Office, later known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, continued throughout Lincoln’s term and beyond. In many cases, government-appointed Indian agents stole resources that were supposed to go to the tribes.

Several massacres of Indians happened during Lincoln’s watch. The Dakota War in Minnesota in 1862 led to the hanging of 38 Indian men. Although 303 Indian men were sentenced to hang, Lincoln pardoned the rest. The Sand Creek Massacre in southeastern Colorado in 1864 led to the deaths of hundreds of Cheyenne and Arapaho.

An historian said Lincoln made no revolutionary change in relations with Native Americans as he did for African Americans with the Emancipation Proclamation. Though Lincoln called for reforming the Indian system in his last two annual messages to Congress, he gave no specifics and continued the policy of confining Indians to reservations as wards of the government after negotiating treaties.

Migrations often are seen as paths to a better life. In the age of the coronavirus, we are still trying to figure out what that might look like. Judging from the past, acts of kindness toward others would help. Social distancing and wearing face coverings might become icons of our generation, as well as our salvation, on our covid-19 migration to an unknown destination.


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


Stop Cringe Worthy Clichès image


By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists


“Thanks for having me!”

You hear that over and over again, on radio and television. People express their gratitude for being invited to speak or appear as guests. They are trying to be polite, but they are trite. And look so proud of themselves.

Over and over again, you hear it. “Thanks for having me.” I cringe every time I hear it. And I’ve been cringing a lot lately. It’s getting on my nerves. It’s a linguistic epidemic during the covid-19 pandemic.

“Thanks for having me!” Okay, I think. You’ve been had, and you liked it. It sounds indecent. Shame on you. Not only for appearing to talk dirty, but also because you can’t think of something more original to say. Make something up, rather than repeating something you hear other people say, like sheep following sheep.

                                   Dignified expressions

How about something more dignified, like, “Thanks for inviting me.” Or, “Thanks for your invitation.” Or, “Thanks for your interest.” Or, “Glad to be here.” Or “What would you like to know?” Or, “How can I help you?” Or, “What can I do for you?” Or, “Glad to be with you.” Or, “Thanks for asking me to participate today.”

Anything, anything but that tired cliché heard dozens of times every day ad nauseam  across the country because everyone else is doing it. Stop!

Why do people resort to clichés? They are the mark of lazy thinking and lazy writing. But they survive, even when their original meanings are sometimes lost or used incorrectly.

By definition, a cliché is an expression, idea, an element of an artistic work that has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being trite or irritating (see that!), when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.

The French poet Gerard de Nerval once said: “The first man who compared a woman to a rose was a poet. The second, an imbecile.”

And that’s the point. Saying something over and over again because others are saying it doesn’t make you look smart. You look like an imbecile.

But, unfortunately, we are not all poets or original thinkers.

                                   Expressing commonalities

Scholars say people use clichés and repeat tired phrases because they are expressing a commonality, showing that they share certain values with others, even though they sound like parrots.

Psychologists say clichés serve a purpose, as stale and tiresome as they might be. They can be seen as life’s sign-posts.

“Clichés are not simply tired bromides,” writes Dr. Steven Mintz in Psychology Today. “They are instruments through which a ‘common-sense ‘ view of life is disseminated. Pithy aphorisms play a central role in the transmission of beliefs. They serve as conduits through which psychological concepts flow into the broader culture.”

Clichés shift over time, writes Dr. Mintz. Fortitude, stoicism and reticence once were regarded as admired virtues. A person facing adversity was encouraged to “suck it up” or “tough it out” in earlier times. Today, emotional expressiveness is more highly valued. We’re told to “express your anger” and “don’t hold it in.” Otherwise, we’re seen as uncommunicative and emotionally numb.

“Nuture your inner child,” we’re told. “Pursue your passion” and “never lose hope.” These are concepts of positive thinking.

“Though often misused,” writes Dr. Mintz, “clichés serve as guides to life that reflect assumptions deeply embedded in popular culture. Yet much as writers need to steer clear of clichés and invent images that are fresh and original, so, too, in our personal lives we need to break free from shopworn banalities and truisms and recognize that life does not conform to simplistic formulas.”

                                               Fresh, new clichés

And, as one of my journalism professors once said, stop using boring, old clichés. Give me some fresh, new clichés.

There is an abundance of old and tired clichés, and thinking people should avoid them. Author Robert Jay Lifton calls clichés “The language of non-thought.” It’s thought on automatic pilot.

HuffPost listed 13 clichés “you shouldn’t be caught dead using.” And they make you “unbearably boring.” Among them:

“Don’t cry over spilt milk.” It’s outdated and nonsensical. Who sheds tears over a toppled tumbler of milk?

“Selling like hotcakes.” Popular in the 19th century, they were made from cornmeal and fried in pork lard. They would be on no health-conscious shopper’s grocery list these days.

                                              History repeats itself

“Avoid like the plague.” Considered outdated and an unlikely expression only months ago. But then the coronavirus pandemic struck. This is more of a health warning now instead of a cliché, showing how history repeats itself.

“The rest is history.” A vapid way of wrapping up a well-known story, so why tell it?

“Every cloud has a silver lining.” The original source of this phrase is Milton’s “Comus,” in which the author is describing moonlight behind clouds at night, not every cloud. Aside from being trite, the cliché is incorrect.

“Beg the question.” Almost everyone uses this cliché incorrectly. It does not mean a question needs to be asked or raised. Aristotle around 350 BC coined the phrase, meaning a type of logical fallacy where a statement refers to its own assertion to prove the assertion, or circular reasoning. That’s what happens when you try to simplify Aristotle.

“When it rains it pours.”  Not always. Sometimes it drizzles.

“Cat got your tongue?” A benefit of a cliché is that it communicates an idea most people can relate to. But who can relate to having their tongue stolen by a cat? It’s a bizarre way to ask somebody to speak up.

“Dressed to kill.” Defined as dressing in extravagantly fancy or stylish clothing to impress others. But it makes no sense. It does not mean dressing in a way fit to kill someone. Taken literally, it could mean wearing something that sheds blood stains. Nothing attractive about that.

                                             Lost in translation

“Spitting image.” Derives from the phrase “spit and image,” meaning you are genetically similar to your kin and look like them. But it sounds gross and looks like something got lost in the translation.

“Go climb a tree.” Meant as a mild insult or rebuke. In these contentious times, a person considering to deliver an insult probably would be advised to make it soul-shattering. Or not at all.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Advice likely given by someone who doesn’t read books. A book’s cover contains a lot of useful information, like its title and the name of the author. An illustrated cover jacket can dazzle you with beckoning details.

                                                Creative writing

Writers are advised to shun clichés, but I suspect some take pride in having a vocabulary full of them, as good as any other best-selling author.

“Editors may reject creative writing on the basis of too many clichés alone,” advises “Reviewers will point them out unless it’s obvious that the writer used them for comic effect, such as to define an overly earnest or boring character.”

The creative writing site adds: “If clichés are frequent and easy to spot, you’re not doing your job as a writer, and you should spend more time weeding them out.”

That’s exactly what to do with “thanks for having me.” Weed it out, mercilessly. Remove it as an irritant to our ears and our intelligence.

We are judged by our words. Use them wisely to express ourselves and our individuality. Thanks for your courteous attention.


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